2008 Beijing Olympic Games - Report Card: Men’s Time
The raging favourite wins but the race of truth is full of surprises.
By Tim Lee
Today’s 47 km test comprised two laps of the 23.5km circuit used in the road
races on day one of the 29th Olympiad. After the first time check at 10.8km it
looked like Alberto Contador was going to add yet another impressive victory to
his rapidly growing palmares. The diminutive Spaniard has been steadily
improving his skills against the clock and the fact that he was 17 seconds ahead
of surprise packet Swede Larsson was evidence of this. Cancellara started
conservatively and was third at 28 seconds, narrowly ahead of Leipheimer and
At the half way mark the second time check showed things were back on track
and order was apparently restored. Cancellara was in the lead while Contador and
Larsson began to slide backwards. Leipheimer and Evans were steady in fourth and
Someone forgot to tell Larsson that this was the Olympics and not the Swedish
national titles because by the 34.4 km time check he was now six seconds ahead
of Cancellara and seriously threatening the Suisse cheese’s Olympic dreams.
Contador had steadied his funky red and yellow ship in third while Leipheimer
was seemingly starting to sink. Evans was now up into fourth and looking for
redemption from the Tour de France’s final time trial.
With each time check changing like a game of musical chairs, the final podium
was still up in the smog-riddled air. How would the day finish and who would end
up taking the hardware home for the next four years? This report card cuts
through the chitchat to deliver the ultimate guide to who was good, who was bad
and who else made headlines in this year’s Olympic time trial.
A - Fabian “King Chrono”
Cancellara (Switzerland) was the overwhelming favourite today. Even
though he left this year’s Tour de France without a TT win, most pundits
expected him to rise to the challenge in Beijing. Of course, being the favourite
can turn out to be nothing but blind faith; but Cancellara is a solid performer
at the big-time events and was always going to be there or thereabouts. But
thereabouts is not in this guys vocabulary and he attacked the course with crazy
amounts of speed. He handled his TT stead in some of the tighter sections of the
course with amazing stability and agility and posted the fastest time at the
He was temporarily challenged by CSC-Saxo Bank trade teammate Larsson but by
the finish the 27-year-old Suisse star had pile-driven his authority all over
the field and finished 33 seconds ahead of second place. It is one thing to be
the outright favourite but another altogether to deliver on the day. An awesome
performance worthy of the Gold to go in the trophy cabinet alongside his Bronze
from day one of what has been a hugely successful Olympics for Cancellara.
B - Gustav Erik “Spanner”
Larsson (Sweden) very nearly put a certain chrome tool in the
Cancellara works and pulled off the upset of all upsets today. Sure he was right
in the mix during the first lap but when he posted the fastest time at the third
and penultimate time check it looked like he was on track to do the unthinkable
and beat the overwhelming favourite. Commentators were sent scrambling to their
form guides to suss out just who this Larsson guy was, as he was ripping up the
race and seemingly on target to create a huge surprise. A pro for seven years he
counts a Swedish time trial title among his better victories but has never
encountered anything close to an Olympic podium. Sure enough Cancellara came
through with the golden goods but 27-year-old Larsson held solid for stunning
Silver in a class field that boasted numerous highly credentialed time trialists.
Yet another astonishing talent to come out of the CSC camp and definitely one to
watch in the future.
C - Levi “Let me ride”
Leipheimer (United States of America) has consistently shown that he
is very much at the top of the sport in the events he has been allowed to start
this year. Fortunately for him, the Olympics are not run by the self-righteous
folk at ASO so he was able to ride until his heart was content in Beijing. After
being outside the top three at all time checks in the course the American who
has been training at altitude while other riders had been at le Tour finished
mega strong to score a Bronze. The advantage of being so short he has to have
his height measured before being allowed on some show rides is that he can get
into a pretty insane tuck position on his Trek and be super aerodynamic. Right
after the finish the 34-year-old Californian looked a bit gutted to not have won
but really should be pretty pumped with his achievement.
D - Dave “Captain America”
Zabriskie (United States of America) has been slowly coming back to
form after having to pull out of the Giro with a fractured lumbar vertebrae the
day after being part of the winning team time trial. He did not have an awesome
road race but many thought the moustache-growing machine would be a big factor
in the TT. It was not to be and the Zee man came home in 12th just over three
minutes down on the Suisse express Cancellara. Lets hope he continues on the
comeback trail and shows the world his impressive time trial skills in the
Vuelta and worlds.
E - Stefan “Here today, gone
the next” Schumacher (Germany) clearly is not the same man that
blitzed the whole field in both time trials at this years Tour de France just a
couple of weeks ago. He struggled in the road race on day one of the Olympics
and today was looking for redemption. Germany dominated the Olympic time trial
in Sydney with Ullrich and Klöden, then left Athens empty handed so dearly
wanted to return to the podium this time around. Schumacher was seen as the most
likely candidate to do this and accordingly started second last today so had the
advantage of getting time checks on everyone but Cancellara. As it turned out he
did not need those as he could see the current World and soon to be Olympic
champion fly past him at the halfway mark. Now, at one point in time or another
almost everyone has been passed by Cancellara in a time trial but for Schumacher
it was that little bit more embarrassing given the fact that he beat the Suisse
rider convincingly twice just a few weeks ago. The 27-year-old German was last
seen leaving China with an oxygen cylinder, smog filter and air purifier kit.
• Alberto Contador (Spain) is no longer an
ace climber who can just hang tough in time trials. Little Alberto put on a show
today and was in with a shout right up to the very end. Sporting a wicked new
lid from helmet sponsor Giro, the Spaniard started like a bat out of hell but
gradually faded to fourth by the finish. Still, if someone had’ve said three
years ago that Contador would be at the pointy end of the Olympic time trial
they would probably be diagnosed with excessive optimism and subject to a
battery of crystal ball examinations.
• Svein Tuft (Canada) was outside the top
20 after the first time check but just got better and better as he progressed
through the race before pouring on the gas in the final part of the course to
finish a very credible seventh. Currently riding for a UCI continental team,
Tuft is a multiple national time trial champion and did that title proud today
with his storming ride that saw him finish ahead of some super names on much
higher salaries. Great effort!
No tools today. The organisers remain the most likely candidate for reasons
discussed in the road race report but they have already collected this award.
Refreshing when no one can be categorised as an idiot isn’t it?
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