By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Chris Froome underlined his love of yellow with a third Tour de France triumph on Sunday, now the British rider has his eyes on Olympic glory alongside the golden sands of the Copacabana.
The 31-year-old missed out on gold at London 2012, settling for a bronze in the time trial, but looks almost unbeatable at present and will be the man to overcome in the Rio road races.
Froome's victory in the Tour's individual time trial last week, a brutal 17km uphill slog, was so dominant that he finished 21 seconds ahead of second-placed Dutchman Tom Dumoulin who could miss Rio after breaking his wrist in France.
So the 31-year-old will be clear favorite for TT gold over two laps of Rio's 29.8km course boasting the 1.2km Grumari hill, at an average gradient of seven percent, and the 2.1km Grota Funda climb plus a high-speed section next to the Atlantic.
"It almost feels like a TT through the Ardennes at points," Team Sky rider Froome, who claimed a third Tour de France title in four years on Sunday, said.
"It's not a mountain TT because you have this flat section you do twice. Ordinarily I would say a climber should do really well but with this flat section you need someone who can really hold the speed up at 55kmh on the flat. I really liked it."
The time trials will be held on Aug. 10, with the women doing just one lap of the 29.8km circuit.
Before that, though, the men's and women's road races taking place on the first weekend of the Games will provide an intriguing and unpredictable spectacle set against the backdrop of Rio's lush landscape.
The 144-strong men's race on Aug. 6 will tackle 256.5km, taking in four laps of the Grumari loop, a tricky cobbled section, and three loops of the 'Canoas/Vista Circuit' including an 8.9km climb, a fast descent and a 20km flat to the finish.
The 67-rider women's race, over half the distance, will see Britain's world road champion Lizzie Armitstead and Dutch Olympic champion Marianne Vos likely battling for gold.
Froome, bidding to do what no man has ever done by winning the road race and TT at the same Games, cannot count on his usual selfless Team Sky support for the mass-start race that begins and finishes in Flamengo Park.
The five-man British team, like those from other powerhouse nations, will probably work together to maximize medal prospects, but fellow Sky riders Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard have eyes on the podium as will Adam Yates, who finished fourth on the Tour, and Steve Cummings who brilliantly won stage seven.
Italian former Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, Tour runner-up Romain Bardet of France, Spain's Alejandro Valverde, Poland's mountain man Rafal Majka, Portugal's Rui Costa, Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet and Froome's trusty Dutch Team Sky protector Wout Poels will all be in the mix too.
Australian Richie Porte is another rider to watch and his team mate Simon Clarke, a late call-up for the injured Simon Gerrans, said the race could be a feast for fans.
"It's going to be one of the most unique one-day races we've ever seen," Clarke, who said he will ride for Porte, forecast.
"It's going to be chaos."
Slovakia's road world champion Peter Sagan is likely to concentrate on the cross-country event having deemed the road race profile not favorable.
Froome though, like most of the top riders, has already familiarized himself with the rolling Rio course and liked what he saw. Having raced lightly early in the year with Rio a big priority, he has plenty left in the tank.
"The second circuit, you literally go right next to one of the Favelas there," he said at Sky's training camp in Mallorca this year. "It'll be an amazing experience.
"I just felt if there was a one-day course I could win, it would look something like this."
"Having said that, it's such a complicated thing. You can't rely on too much teamwork with four team mates and that amount of climbing. It's every man for himself."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Ken Ferris)