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Olympic Road Bike Race Course

Preview of the Road Race at the Beijing Olympics

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Riders pass Tiananmen Square during the Olympic Men's Road Race test event in August 2007.

Riders pass Tiananmen Square during the Olympic Men's Road Race test event in August 2007.

Feng Li/Getty Images

Remember the brutal conditions for the bicycle road race at the Athens Olympics in 2004? Searing heat had competitors dropping like flies as the riders wound their way through Athens for over five and a half hours. But current opinion from teams who have scoped the course that riders will face Beijing this summerat the 2008 Summer Olympic Games is that the Beijing route will make Athens seem like a cakewalk, as it is widely considered one of the most challenging in Olympic history.

The course starts at Yongdingmen Gate near the Forbidden City and then heads through Beijing to the Great Wall of China. During the first, flat 80km, racers pass the Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, Yonghegong Palace, and Temple of Earth Park. Near the Great Wall, racers enter the circuit segment of the course, and this is where the serious hills begin. Male riders are slated to complete seven laps of a 24km circuit that climbs 520m per lap. Following completion of the circuit, the race ends in Juyongguan at the Great Wall.

Comparable to a mountain stage of the Tour de France, the Beijing course will favor climbers much more than sprinters, and the continual up-and-down of the circuit phase of the race is where the medalists will be made.

"It goes up, goes up some more and comes down then you go up again," said Australian Cadel Evans (second in the 2007 Tour de France, and an early medalist favorite) after the race. "It's ten kilometres of climbing with some steep sections in it and not much recovery and then one big long downhill but even then it was a headwind all the way down and not so easy."

The distance and hilliness of the course, coupled with Beijing's dirty air and heavy summertime humidity, will make this a race of attrition as much as anything.

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