George Bennett will be a man on a solo mission when the Rio Olympics Road Race gets underway on August 6th. The LottoNL-Jumbo rider will represent New Zealand in the road race but without any team support. The same will be said of Linda Villumsen who will look to add Olympic gold to her Commonwealth and World titles.
It’s an interesting move that Cycling New Zealand and the New Zealand Olympic Committee have taken in selecting just one rider for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men’s road race. Two riders were qualified, something which one would expect would be a definite plus for New Zealand to have in the road race, but George Bennett has been selected as the only rider on the team.
It is perhaps not so surprising that Sam Bewley is absent from the list, given that he expended so much in the Giro d’Italia and has had a well-earned break, but the fact that Cycling New Zealand chose not to utilise Jesse Sergent or Patrick Bevin is a little surprising. Most surprising though is the lack of inclusion of Cannondale-Drapac’s Jack Bauer. Bauer was deeply disappointed not to be selected for the Tour de France – the first time since 2012 that he hasn’t ridden the Grande Boucle – but to miss out on Olympic selection will come as a further blow to a season that has ssen him rise to good form after battling his way back from serious injury.
Missing selection means that New Zealand will be without their Commonwealth silver medallist in Bauer, and without any team support whatsoever. Speaking about leaving Jack out of the team, Mark Elliott said, “Jack is an outstanding rider and served us so well at London and Glasgow, but due to a number of significant injuries and crashes over the last 18 months we were unable to put his name forward to the NZOC.”
Linda Villumsen fills the single spot that New Zealand qualified in the women’s road events. While Bennett will only be tackling the road race, Villumsen will get a chance in both the road race and time trial. The world time trial champion already has an impressive palmares when it comes to Olympic appearances; although so far a medal has eluded her. In 2008 Villumsen finished 5th in the Beijing road race. In 2012 she was denied bronze and had to settle for fourth in London. This year in three individual time trials in UCI events this year, Villumsen has finished no lower than ninth, winning the stage 1 time trial of the Joe Martin Stage Race.
Her road race pedigree has been strong this year as well, with third place overall in the Tour of the Gila being her best result so far. Mark Elliott said, “Linda has been preparing well for her United Healthcare team under the direction of her personal coach Marco Pinotti, and has produced some encouraging performances.” Elliott is particularly excited that the difficulty of the time trial is likely to play into her hands a lot more than in London. “The course in Rio is certainly more suited to her skills than was the case in London and we are leaving no stone unturned in her preparations.”