Tour de France winner in frame for Olympic place next year, but Australia could face selection headache

Tour de France winner Cadel Evans will not be taking part in next month’s Olympic road race test event, the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, in which the Australian team will be led by Leopard Trek rider Stuart O’Grady, bidding to compete in his sixth Olympic Games.

O’Grady, gold medallist in the Madison at Athens in 2004, turns 38 next week and is the oldest rider in the five-man Australian team, whose youngest member, World Under-23 road race champin Michael Matthews of Rabobank, is aged just 20.

The other three men named in the squad for the race on 14 August are Matt Goss, winner of Milan-San Remo this year, and his HTC-Highroad team mate Leigh Howard, plus Heinrich Haussler, who last year committed himself to represent Australia, the country of his birth, rather than his parents’ native Germany.

O’Grady has the distinction of having picked up gold, silver and bronze Olympic medals – another cyclist to have done so is Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins – having taken silver in the team pursuit at Barcelona in 1992 and two bronze medals, in that event and the points race, at Atlanta four years later. Should he make the team for London next year, it will be his sixth Olympic Games.

The team will be managed by Matt White, Cycling Australia's Professional Men's Road Coordinator, who parted company with Garmin-Cervelo in somewhat controversial circumstances after apparently arranging medical consultations for team riders that breached team rules.

"It might be a test event but we're definitely going to win and with this group we've got the talent to do that," commented White. "All five can do the job and we're going to win in London in August and then we're heading to Denmark in September to win again at the World Championships.

"Every time our pros come together to race for Australia, and it's only a couple of times a year at most, they race to win," he added. "So when they come into this team they know they're here for business and that business is to win bike races."

Next month’s race brings together 20 national teams that will be competing in the Olympics, including eight that produced stage winners in this year’s Tour de France – Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Luxembourg, Norway and the United States.

Other national tams competing represent Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Slovenia and Venezuala, and there will also be an England team.

Five UK-based trade teams will also get a one-off chance to compete with some of the sport’s elite – Cyclepremier-Metaltek Endura, Motorpoint, Team Raleigh, Rapha-Condor-Sharp, Sigma Sport and Twenty3c-Orbea.

Referring to the presence of an England team alongside one representing Great Britain, and reflecting the wealth of talent at his disposition, White, who comes from Sydney, joked: "I was thinking of entering a team from Queensland and one from New South Wales, but apparently big Mal Meninga (the Queensland State of Origin rugby league coach) is busy on the 14th of August.”

He added: "The test event provides an opportunity for us to take a close look at the course under race conditions and, even though it's a shorter race than the Olympic race will be, it's the only chance our coaches and staff will have before next year's race for medals. We'll take advantage of that to collect as much info as we can."

Race radios will not be used during the Olympics, which white says could affect the outcome of the race.

"It's a different style of racing and for those who are used to wearing race radios it will be a big factor," he explained. "Also they need to understand that next year's Olympic road race will be tricky as it's only five men and unless you're next to each other there's no way to communicate.

"They'll have officials telling them time-gaps but during the race the riders will need to think for themselves, make solid tactical decisions and make them quickly," White added. "It will be the same at this year's worlds but with a team of almost twice as many riders."

The London-Surrey Cycle Classic follows the route that will be used in next summer’s Olympic road race, starting and finishing on The Mall, before heading out via South West London through Richmond Park and past Hampton Court Palace before taking in two circuits of Box Hill, instead of the nine that will be used in 2012. Race timings can be found here.

Meanwhile, Cycling Australia high performance manager Kevin Tabotta claims that Evans can become only the third cyclist after Germany's Jan Ullrich and the Spanish legend Miguel Indurain to have won the Tour de France and Olympic and World Championships.

Ullrich, winner of the Tour de France in 1997, was world time trial champion in 1999 and 2001 and won the Olympic road race in Sydney in 2000.

Indurain, world time trial champion in 1995 and winner of the gold medal in the same discipline in Atlanta the following year, won the Tour de France five times between 1991 and 1995. He also won the Giro d’Italia twice.

“I can completely imagine Cadel adding Olympic gold to his achievements, I think he's more than capable of that,” Tabotta told The Australian.

At Beijing three years ago, Evans finished fifteenth in the road race and fifth in the individual time trial, and while not named in the squad for the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, will be a strong contender for inclusion in the Olympic squad, alongside riders such as Team Sky’s Michael Rogers and Saxo Bank-SunGard’s Richie Porte, to name just two.

“Absolutely Cadel could be part of that team,” said Tabotta, adding that the 34-year-old is well and truly in the equation for the Olympic Games.

“He's proven on a number of different courses over the years he's a competitor.

“He may not be a sprinter, but even then if it comes to a pretty tight finish Cadel has proven that he can sprint against guys on tough courses.

With the country likely to qualify five riders for the road race in London 2012 and two in the time trial, Australia’s selectors are likely to face a dilemma when it comes to determining who will make the cut.

“It's going to be one of the most difficult teams we'll ever have to pick, but we'd rather be in this position where we're having to figure out who to leave out rather than who to include,” explained Tabotta.

“The London road course we think will suit a one-day specialist like a Matt Goss or Allan Davis or Heinrich Haussler or Mathew Hayman, among many others.

“I would think there would be 10 to 12 guys right now who are a real chance to make the Olympic Games.

“The only thing is that Cadel will have to have a real think about what his priorities are,” Tabotta continued.

“He'll be riding in the Tour de France next year, but that doesn't mean he can't do both.

“It will be a question of after the Tour, how can Cadel best recover and return for a result in the Olympic road race and potentially in the Olympic time trial.

“But these are questions Cadel will have to answer himself,” he concluded.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.