Geraint Thomas leads the British team pursuit quartet at the 2008 Beijing Olympics as they head to a gold medal and world record

The cycling calendar is usually quite a fixed affair, with the same races appearing every season generally in the same familiar slot. But every four years a spanner gets thrown in the works in the form of the Olympic Games.

2016 is, of course, one of those years, and between August 6-10 this year the world’s best riders on the road will convene in Rio de Janeiro in the hope of adding an Olympic medal to their palmares, with the world’s best riders on the track taking centre stage between August 11-16.

BMX (August 17-19) and mountain bike cross-country (August 20-21) complete the cycling events.

Road events

The most comparable annual race on the road calendar to the Olympics is the World Championships. Both events feature a circuit-based road race and lengthy time-trial, and in both events riders compete for their nation rather than their trade team.

Unlike the Worlds and most other races, where failure one year is at least compensated by the chance to try again in 12 months’ time, riders only get a few shots at winning an Olympic medal throughout their entire careers, and consequently the event will attract stellar fields.

In women’s cycling especially the event is held in very high esteem, as it offers the kind of vast exposure that no other race on the calendar can currently provide. Four years ago, Lizzie Armitstead was edged out by Marianne Vos in London, and the Yorkshirewoman has identified the road race as one of her major targets this year. Having been crowned World Champion last year, an Olympic gold is now the main achievement missing from her palmares.

Marianne Vos wins, London 2012 Olympics, women's road race

In the men’s peloton, Chris Froome has also made Rio a major target, although he fancies his chances more in the time-trial than the road race. He hopes to go into the race off the back of the form he expects to come out of from his other main goal of the season, the Tour de France.

Both road race courses have been described as tough and hilly. The riders will tackle two circuits, the first featuring the narrow Grumari climb (1.2km with average gradient of 7 per cent and a peak of 13 per cent) and the dragging Grota Funda (which rarely strays from its 4.5 per cent average over its 2.1km distance).

The toughest obstacle is saved for the second circuit, which features a much longer climb (8.5km in total) in the form of the Vista Chinesa, with an average gradient of 5.7 per cent. Tackled once by the women and three times by the men, this is where the decisive moves are likely to be made.

The severity of this last climb should suit riders capable of going well over mountains and in classics, like Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali.

Though Armitstead generally enjoys difficult, selective racing, the severity of the climbs on the circuit might not suit her punchy style so well, with the Dutch duo of Vos and Anna van der Breggen potentially very threatening.

The route’s difficulty is however what’s helped encouraging Froome to aim for the time-trial, where a similarly bumpy circuit will help him challenge the purer time-trialists like Tony Martin and Tom Dumoulin.

The women’s time-trial is difficult to call now two-time gold medalist Kristin Armstrong is 42-years old, but Lisa Brennauer and world champion Linda Villumsen are both in with a shout.

Track events

Following the road events will be six days of track cycling held in the newly-built Rio Olympic Velodrome.

Upholding the changes made in 2012, there will be ten events in total, five for the women and five for the men (see below).

Great Britain has dominated at the previous couple of Olympics, winning seven velodrome golds in each, and look set to have another strong team capable of bringing home plenty of medals.

Some of the heroes of London 2012, including Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, are now retired, but plenty of big names remain. Defending omnium champion Laura Trott returns with four more years’ experience under her belt (she was just 20 when she won gold in London), as does defending individual sprint champion Jason Kenny, although he has recently struggled to replicate his top form.

The GB Mens team pursuit at the New Zealand World Cup track event in 2015

The GB Mens team pursuit at the New Zealand World Cup track event in 2015

Also returning to the track are two of British cycling’s biggest names – Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins. Cavendish is targeting the omnium in attempt to finally land the Olympic gold medal he craves having missed out at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012, while Wiggins is seeking his eighth Olympic medal as part of the Team Pursuit squad.

Team GB’s main rivals are likely to be the usual suspects in the shape of France and Australia. The French dominated the men’s events at the 2015 World Championships with Gregory Bauge and Francois Pervis claiming two golds each, while Australia starred in the women’s events with Annette Edmondson twice edging out British opposition to win a couple of golds and the evergreen Anna Meares adding one more to her huge career tally.

Rio Olympics: Schedule

August 6: Men’s road race (256.4km)
August 7: Women’s road race (130.3km)
August 10: Men’s time trial (59.6km)
August 10: Women’s time trial (29.8km)
August 11: Men’s team sprint final
August 12: Men’s team pursuit final
August 12: Women’s team sprint final
August 13: Women’s Keirin final
August 13: Women’s team pursuit final
August 14: Men’s sprint final
August 15: Men’s Omnium final
August 16: Men’s Keirin final
August 16: Women’s Omnium final
August 16: Women’s sprint final
August 17: BMX
August 18: BMX
August 19: BMX
August 20: Mountain bike cross-country
August 21: Mountain bike cross-country

Current Olympic Champions (2012)

Road
Men road race: Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz)
Women road race: Marianne Vos (Ned)
Men time trial: Bradley Wiggins (GBr)
Women time trial: Kristin Armstrong (USA)

Track
Men sprint: Jason Kenny (GBr)
Women sprint: Anna Meares (Australia)
Men team sprint: Great Britain (Hindes, Hoy, Kenny)
Women team sprint: Germany (Vogel, Welte)
Men keirin: Chris Hoy (GBr)
Women keirin: Victoria Pendleton (GBr)
Men team pursuit: Great Britain (Clancy, Thomas, Burke, Kennaugh)
Women team pursuit: Great Britain (King, Trott, Rowsell)
Men omnium: Lasse Norman Hansen (Den)
Women omnium: Laura Trott (GBr)

BMX
Men: Maris Strombergs (Lat)
Women: Mariana Pajon (Col)

Mountain bike cross-country
Men: Jaroslav Kulhavy (Cze)
Women: Julie Bresset (Fra)

Past winners

Men’s road race

2012: Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz)
2008: Samuel Sanchez (Spa)
2004: Paolo Bettini (Ita)
2000: Jan Ullrich (Ger)
1996: Pascal Richard (Sui)

Women’s road race

2012: Marianne Vos (Ned)
2008: Nicole Cooke (GBr)
2004: Sara Carrigan (Aus)
2000: Leontien Zijlaard (Ned)
1996: Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (Ita)

Men’s time trial

2012: Bradley Wiggins (GBr)
2008: Fabian Cancellara (Sui)
2004: Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus)
2000: Viatcheslav Ekimov (Rus)
1996: Miguel Indurain (Esp)

Women’s time trial

2012: Kristin Armstrong (USA)
2008: Kristin Armstrong (USA)
2004: Leontien Van Moorsel (Ned)
2000: Leontien Van Moorsel (Ned)
1996: Zulfiya Zabirova (Rus)