"Having finished between the 6th and 15th ranked nations in the UCI Final Rankings by Nation, Australia qualified four riders for the road race. Two of those riders will be eligible to compete in the time trial event."
Yet when the men's road team was announced a month ago by Cycling Australia (CA), just three names were presented: Simon Gerrans as leader, together with Rohan Dennis and Richie Porte, the latter pair to also ride the time trial, to be held four days afterwards, on July 10. No explanation was provided as to why the selectors did not include a fourth, or whether they would indeed do so. Though from the tweet below, it seems CA selectors have chosen 21-year-old cross-country mountain bike competitor Scott Bowden - first on the left; you've heard of him, right? - to join the aforementioned trio.
Many speculated that in selecting five men for the team pursuit on the track - namely, Jack Bobridge, Alex Edmondson, Michael Hepburn, Callum Scotson and Samuel Welsford - an event with a near 50 percent chance of winning gold - Australia would also use Bobridge or Hepburn to assist in the 241.5 kilometre road race; an event that, until Gerrans' collarbone-snapping crash on Stage 12 of the Tour de France, chances of a medal were indeed possible, though far less certain.
In the end, CA has gone with a ring-in with not a day of WorldTour experience behind him. "I was selected as a mountain biker and with team dynamics and the way things have worked out, that’s how it’s ended up," Bowden told the Hobart Mercury. “It's a pretty cool opportunity and from a physiological point of view for the mountain bike race having a solid hit out two weeks before actually works quite well. But I'll be going there to give 100 per cent for the other guys.
"It will be an unreal experience, it's not something I had foreseen, particularly not this early."
"It's the equivalent of Orica-BikeExchange subbing Luke Durbridge for a NRS rider at Paris-Roubaix."
Bowden, a two-time XC national MTB champion from Tasmania, might be the next Cadel Evans but right now, as far as top-level road racing goes, he's no one.
The public has a right to know what strategy is being employed here by Cycling Australia officialdom and why. Why is one of the world's top road cycling nations not fielding four fully-fit, fully-dedicated riders, rather than three plus a ring-in who will be completely out of his depth and lucky to make it to the 150K mark? It's the equivalent of Orica-BikeExchange subbing Luke Durbridge for a NRS rider at Paris-Roubaix. (Imagine Mathew Hayman's delight at that...)
"Gerro's Gerro. He's the most experienced cyclist Australia has at the moment", said Porte of their erstwhile leader at Rio, who has since been replaced by Simon Clarke, the 30-year-old Cannondale-Drapac rider from Victoria making his Games debut. "My goal for Rio is to put in a personal-best performance to ensure the Aussie team achieves the best result possible," Clarke said in a July 23 press release, upon learning of his selection.
As worthy a substitute as Clarke is, there's no denying Australia has gone from being one of five or so favourites to that of rank outsider. All the more reason to have a proper lieutenant to guide him and to keep him fresh, or, should the Tasmanian be on a blinder, to also protect Porte, rather than place all eggs in one basket. Alternatively, if Clarke and Porte are deemed co-leaders, then having Dennis monitor both is simply not feasible.
Consider that the second part of the road race course - considered by many to be the hardest in Olympic memory - includes three laps of a circuit that features a 8.9 kilometre-long climb. For this reason alone, I would've liked to see someone like Damian Howson or Rory Sutherland, who both performed brilliantly for their respective leaders Esteban Chaves and Alejandro Valverde at the Giro d'Italia, included in the mix, rather than what can only be described as a token fourth.
Any Grand Tour or Classics champion will tell you the best result possible can only be achieved with the best team possible. With respect to the Australian selectors and the way they've gone about their business for Saturday's road race, a once-in-four-year opportunity, I don't think they've done that.