Finding out the exact route of Saturday's men's cycling road race has been less than straight forward this week.

Maps are vague and inexact and you do sense that of all the events here at the Games, the road race is not one to which the Chinese hosts easily relate.

Our Chinese driver had numerous conversations with policemen and assorted roadside groups before we established what road we needed to be on near the Great Wall at Badaling.

I have heard that the hosts' original plan involved a race around one of the motorways that encircle the city. A pan-flat equivalent of racing around the M25.

At least they now can showcase the city with the start in the heart of Beijing past sights such as Tian'anmen Square, the Temple of Heaven and the Temple of Earth.

The ride along the expressway from the city to the start of the 24km circuit near the Great Wall is merely transitional and the whole race really starts for the big boys after those first, flat 80km.

The French cycle team practice along the route at Badaling

Alejandro Valverde is the name that keeps cropping up in previews ahead of the men's Olympic Road Race and I can now understand why.

It's made for a rider with his kind of strengths, with a tough 11 or 12km climb to be tackled seven times in the latter half of the race. The climb varies in gradient and isn't too bad for a while with a few short dips, but some of the stretches are up to 10% nearer the top.

I reckon many of the riders will hit the proverbial "wall" on this part of the course, never mind ride through the archway underneath it on each lap!

The other half of the circuit is mostly a wider descent but isn't a super-fast one.

The air is a little cooler than in the city, with a surprisingly stiff breeze evident, but it seemed quite murky up there. The final few hundred metres to the finish also provide an uphill sting in the tail immediately after the descent. This demanding finishing circuit will whittle the field right down and is totally different to the early part of the route.

Other names to look out for in the 250km race include the defending Champion Paolo Bettini from Italy; the Tour de France winners from the past two years, Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre from Spain; the Russian Dennis Menchov and the Schleck brothers from Luxembourg.

But on the back of his victory in San Sebastian last week, you sense Valverde and his Spanish team mates will be the ones to beat.

Simon Brotherton is a commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live, concentrating on the cycling in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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