For an Olympics that is meant to see the flame being passed to a younger, brighter generation, the Olympic Road races seemed to be the exception to the rule. Of course, that’s somewhat unfair on Vos, the 25 year old Cannibal of womens cycling who seems to have been around forever, who now has Olympic Gold on track and road, as well as being World Champion eight times across disciplines from Cyclo-Cross to track, but for Vinokkourov, it’s somewhat more fitting. The British media where keen to point out that he was a ‘convicted doper’ – forgetting, perhaps, that Mark Cavendish’s medal bid was being aided by a convicted doper in David Millar – and when they realised the hypocrisy of this statement, took to simply saying Millar had repented that made everything better. Personally, Millar comes across as a hypocrit, not only in the manner in which he conducted his ‘will I wont I’ attempt to compete in the games, but also in that his entire career has effectively been built on the fact that he doped, and lets not forget, was caught, then confessed, not the other way round as many British journalists have tried to paint it.
Ultimately, this is the sad legacy of the London Men’s Road Race – we’re back talking about doping yet again on what was meant to be a great day of attacking riding and maybe even a home rider triumphing. What we got was ‘Sky’, as Hugh Porter managed to call them at various points (more on that later) trying the ol’ Team Time Trial tactic to the finish, which had worked so well in Copenhagen of course.
The problem is that Surrey is not Copenhagen – it has rises and dips, and so unlike the Danish city, which only really featured one climb, to the finish line, the London course was comparatively Alpine in profile. Various prophecies from the days before came true – national team leaders from Jalabert to Bettini came up to say the race would be won by a breakaway (happily I’d predicted similar at the end of my preview!), and so it turned out, on a day that many cyclists outside Britain will probably be somewhat pleased with, given that it showed the Olympic ‘dream team’, which was stuffed with talent that had taken between them a Tour de France Title, thirty Tour de France stages(1 ITT), twenty one other Grand Tour stages (4 ITTs), three national championships on the road, nine world championships, three Olympic golds, and a Commonwealth games gold, couldn’t have everything its own way.
Not that they didn’t try. Just like Copenhagen, the team sat on the front all day, Ian Stannard and Bradley Wiggins in particular doing monumental turns of the front. What was surprising was that no one tested Cavendish on Box Hill – I was expecting teams like Belgium and Italy to try setting an infernal pace up the first couple of circuits to try and get rid of the sprinters. Instead, everyone just soft tapped up the climb, giving Cavendish exactly what he wanted. It was the Swiss who were sneaking under the radar with the best tactics, attacking up the road one at a time until they had three men in the front group, with only Cancellara behind. Phillipe Gilbert did his (this year) token attack to try and get away, but it was not until the last lap that things kicked off, not that you would have known.
For the Olympic coverage was truly awful. It had clearly been devised by someone who had not a clue about the sport they were covering. No matter what channel you usually watch the race on, be it Italian, Dutch, Belgian, they always include the distance to go in the top corner, and 90% of the time, the time gap from the peloton to the break. Whoever was in charge of the Olympic coverage decided this was not necessary, and when the gaps were displayed, it was in the pointless figure of kilometers between the riders. Even at the end of the race, the graphics were obsessed with displaying the time of the silver medal winner of the Women’s race, Lizzie Amritstead, next to her medal, as if the times could be beaten or were of some relevance. We would even be treated to the directors commentary, clearly meant for the earpiece of Gary Lineker, as he struggled over ‘who is C-O-L’ when seeing Uran’s nation tag. The run in was equally infuriating, as whatever was being used to calculate the gap was completely useless, fluctuating widely. If any positives could be found, it added to the suspense. Perhaps this was Hugh Porter, the BBC’s cycling commentator’s excuse as well. Whilst Chris Boardman was evidently annoyed and trying to make it accessible, he spent most of his time correcting Hugh, who it seemed was incapable of recognizing his own reflection, let alone a rider.
Now, of course, the Olympics and World Championships can be tricky with regards to identifying riders, who are in their national kits, but can usually be done by using trade helmets and glasses which they’ll still be wearing as well as just being able to recognize rider’s styles and faces anyway. This wasn’t helped this year by the move by Specialised to give all it’s riders red helmets and bicycles, meaning an extra half second where you had to compute which team they were on, but some of Porter’s mistakes were unforgivable none the less. Choice errors included picking out every member of the Dutch or Norwegian teams as Edvald Boassen Hagen, an amazing inability to be unable to distinguish between the 6ft 4, muscle bound and red helmet topped Tom Boonen and the 5ft 10 puncheur Phillipe Gilbert, who wasn’t wearing the distinctive red helmet, and screaming wildly that Mark Cavendish had come to the front to do the chasing, a mistake even more unforgivable given this was from a helicopter shot which clearly showed the rider’s numbers. I’ve volunteered to the BBC to commentate on the TT based on my ability to know who the riders are. I haven’t heard back yet.
In between Hugh’s ramblings and odd moments where the footage simply cut to a twig in a field somewhere for 10 seconds (seriously), the coverage missed Cancellara bridging to the front group, and so everyone was unconcerned as to why the Swiss men who had infiltrated the break where setting a ferocious pace having crucially rested for long enough to be able to compete with the GB TT specialists. Suddenly, the GB dream was in trouble, and as Spain had also latched onto the break which also held the presence of Stuey O’Grady, only one team was really going to help Britain – Germany. They chose not to do so, having already lost Tony Martin, and only really wanting to commit Marcel Sieberg and Bert Grabsch, meaning the peloton was being pulled along by six men against twenty. This, not the grand conspiracy against them Britain claimed, was the reason they lost, simply that too many nations had men in the break and thus weren’t going to chase. Britain’s grand design was flawed in the ‘easy up Box-Hill part’ – on the last laps, realising Cavendish would at least stay in the pack, they should have applied more pressure. Unfortunately the Swiss master plan failed when Cancellara was caught out by a tight bend and crashed – unusual for him – although luckily he hadn’t re broken the shoulder that had plagued him all Spring. Hope briefly blossomed for GB as the break lost some impetus as the Swiss team gave up, but at Putney high street, Uran attacked to drag Vino with him for the sprint.
Keeping with their quickly established tradition of shoddy camera work, as the pair passed the 500m to go point, the camera remained fixed on the empty road behind for a good 5 seconds, but eventually figured that people might actually want to see the finish of an Olympic event. Uran was outfoxed by Vinokourov, who went as Uran looked the other way, and won with relative ease, whilst Alexander Kristoff of Norway took the bunch sprint from Taylor Phinney for the bronze. And so Vino upgraded from his Sydney, albeit not in a very popular manner. Still, most were happy enough for him to win, and it’s a crowning moment on a long career. The more interesting thing was the bunch sprint, where, had the medals gone to that, Cavendish would have only finished with bronze, as Greipel and Boonen beat him. Probably not wise to read too much into that though.
The Women’s race was more exciting, as they actually attacked – Ellen Van Dyke in particular, as the great Vos was set up by her Dutch team. The apocalyptic weather and stormy conditions reflected the aggressive nature of the race. When the break of four went, it quickly became clear that they would stay away, no matter how bad the time checks were (again) and no matter that it took Hugh Porter about a minute to realise what viewers had noticed for three – that the American Shelley Olds had punctured out of the break, although Porter decided she had been dropped, ignoring the obvious difference in her wheels. Russian Zabelinskaya looked tired and sluggish, and so it was clear that the sprint would be between Vos and Armitstead. No one could really dislike Vos for winning – she has tried so hard for this medal, and another silver after coming second in the Worlds on the last five occasions (luckily she had won in 2006) would have been cruel. A silver for Armitstead was a good reward for the 23 year old, and got the mighty GB cycling effort off the mark. Lets just hope that the first medal doesn’t reflect the general success rate a la Beijing’s Gold for Cooke did…
Men’s Road Race:
Gold: Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakstan, Astana)
Silver: Rigoberto Uran (Colombia, Sky)
Bronze: Alexander Kristoff (Norway, Katusha)
Women’s Road Race
Gold: Marianne Vos (Netherlands, Rabobank)
Silver: Elizabeth Armitstead (Great Britain, AA Drink-leontien.nl)
Bronze: Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia, RusVelo)