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The kaleidoscopic array of partygoers nursing a caipirinha on the Copacabana will provide the colourful backdrop to the 2016 Olympic road race. 256.4km of paved endurance confront a competitive male field on Saturday 6 August, followed by 130.3km for the females a day later. The road race has etched its own distinctive place in the Olympic programme. It’s a simple format. Mass start, winner takes all, no second chances. See you in four years.

 

The event’s fabric is rich from the semi-comical to the chequered: competitors finishing on borrowed bikes, doping scandals, death and local favourites coming unstuck. The road race featured in the inaugural 1896 Olympics and has been a fixture of the Games ever since 1928 (its sister competition, the time trial conceived in 1996). That first Olympic road race was a stroll compared to today’s gruelling courses. The classic running circuit from Athens to the city of Marathon was selected, effectively a marathon distance there and back. Local favourite Aristidis Konstantinidis won in 3 hours, 22 minutes, 31 seconds. This was before the the derailleur gear- change system was invented and long before aluminum and carbon became component parts. 

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There is plenty of legend concerning this first race, reports claiming Konstantinidis finished on a borrowed bike, and was filthy and cut to pieces from several accidents. Berlin, 1936, noted for more heavyweight political stories, is significant in that it witnessed the introduction of the mass start. Cycling even survived the cost cuts during London’s 1948 ‘Austerity Games’ when resources were so deplenished that an athletes village was sacrificed and rations forced. 1960 proved one of the more infamous editions when in the sweltering heat of Rome, Danish rider Knud Jensen died after collapsing and fracturing his skull on the pavement. Jensen had reportedly taken amphetamine before the race and his death was instrumental in the introduction of drug testing from the Mexico 1968 Olympics onwards.

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The Rio 2016 Olympic Games Road Cycling – August 6-7 & 10

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