Feature | Road Cycling

Olympic road cycling at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

What can we expect from road cycling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021? Where and when will competitions be held? What is the history of road cycling at the Olympics? Here are five things you need to know.

By ZK Goh ·

The sport of cycling at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 will be split into five disciplines, one of which is road cycling.

Road cycling has a long history in the Olympics dating back to the first modern Games of Athens 1896.

This year’s mountainous road race courses will favour climbers, but poses an interesting question: with the Games races falling just a week after the Tour de France is due to conclude, will the big names really show up or be in good form for that challenge, or for the time trial event after three tough weeks on the French roads? Here are the top things to know about Olympic road cycling.

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Olympic road cycling top riders at Tokyo 2020

With the road race parcours for the Games in 2021 setting up to be mountainous, a big question awaits the Tour de France favourites. The climbers who would be expected to challenge for the yellow jersey at the grand tour event – names like Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia, Egan Bernal, Miguel Ángel López, and Nairo Quintana of Colombia, Enric Mas of Spain, and others – will have less than a week to recover from their gruelling efforts over three weeks in Europe, before taking on the Fuji course.

Alejandro Valverde, the 2018 road race world champion who is skipping the Tour, will also target the Games in his final professional season. However, the challenging route would appear to rule out puncheurs like Peter Sagan and current world champion Julian Alaphilippe – although the latter did admirably hold his own in the 2019 Tour, when he finished fifth overall.

And will Chris Froome, two-time time trial bronze medallist, be back to his best to challenge in the Tokyo road race?

On the women’s side, the Dutch team are the traditional powerhouses, having won the last four world championships road races between them as well as the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. Marianne Vos, the London 2012 champion, and defending champ Anna van der Breggen – who intends to retire this season – will likely be joined by Annemiek van Vleuten and perhaps Chantal van der Broek-Blaak as they put forward a strong squad.

Their biggest challenge ought to come from the likes of Amanda Spratt of Australia, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio of South Africa, and Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy.

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The flat time trial specialists may not be thrilled by the climbing planned for the men’s time trial, with an elevation gain of around 846 metres.

Instead, look for someone like Roglic, Froome, or Rohan Dennis – two-time world champ in the time trial and an Olympic track silver medallist – to come to the fore. Young hotshot Remco Evenepoel of Belgium and Rio silver medallist Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands – if he decides to return from his indefinite break – could also feature in the conversation.

The women will only have to contend with an elevation gain of 423 metres but once again the Dutch will be hard to beat. If Chloé Dygert of Team USA is sufficiently fit after her horror crash at the 2020 World Championships, she may well be favourite, however.

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Olympic road cycling competition format at Tokyo 2020

Road cycling at the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021 is split into two events for each gender - a road race, and a time trial.

The road races are mass start events, with all riders – 130 men, with a maximum team size of five, and 67 women, with a maximum team size of four – starting at the same time.

While the men will race over 234 km with an elevation gain of 4865 metres, the women’s road race will only run over 137 km with an elevation gain of 2692 metres. The men’s course takes an extra lap around a circuit that climbs Mount Fuji as well as the Mikuni Pass, while the women’s race will not – instead only visiting the Yamabushi Tunnel and the Kagosaka Pass (which the men will also climb).

Both individual time trials are solo races against the clock, with athletes starting at pre-defined intervals. The men will compete over two laps of the 22.1-km circuit; the women will do one lap.

Tokyo 2020 men's road cycling course maps (Graphics: UCI)
Tokyo 2020 women's road cycling course maps (Graphics: UCI)

Olympic road cycling schedule at Tokyo 2020

The road cycling competition will take place from 24 July 2021 to 28 July 2021, with the men’s road race the morning after the Opening Ceremony and the women’s road race a day later.

The individual time trials take place on 28 July 2021.

Times are Japan Standard Time (UTC +9 hours).

Sat 24 July 2021, 11:00 - 18:15

  • Men's Road Race
  • Men's Road Race Victory Ceremony

Sun 25 July 2021, 13:00 - 17:35

  • Women's Road Race
  • Women's Road Race Victory Ceremony

Wed 28 July 2021, 11:30 - 17:40

  • Women's Individual Time Trial
  • Women's Individual Time Trial Victory Ceremony
  • Men's Individual Time Trial
  • Men's Individual Time Trial Victory Ceremony

Olympic road cycling venue at Tokyo 2020

The base for the road cycling events will be the Fuji International Speedway motor racing circuit situated at the foot of Mount Fuji, southwest of Tokyo.

Both the men’s and women’s road races will start in eastern Tokyo at Musashinonomori Park before finishing on the circuit.

The individual time trials will be held on a course which starts and finishes on the racing circuit, while also taking the cyclists through the countryside nearby.

Olympic road cycling history

Road cycling has been ever-present at the Olympics since the Stockholm 1912 Games, having made its debut at the first modern Games in Athens before being dropped for the 1900, 1904, and 1908 Games.

However, women’s road races did not take place until the Los Angeles 1984 Games, with time trials introduced at Atlanta 1996.

Tokyo was host to the closest road cycling finish in Olympic history in 1964, when nobody was able to make a successful breakaway and the top 99 finishers were all given a time within two tenths of gold medallist Mario Zanin of Italy. Notably, Eddy Merckx, later to become a five-time Tour de France winner, finished 12th.

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