Australia’s men’s pursuit team have proven it can be done. Now the task is to ensure their team-mates in the Olympic cycling road race can also beat the Brits on their own turf.
Scientists at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) have made it their job this year to give Cadel Evans and co an edge at the London Games and tackle what’s become a critical factor in near any sport – home advantage.
Australia can lay claim to some early points after the pursuit foursome of Jack Bobridge, Michael Hepburn, Rohan Dennis and Alex Edmondson clocked a comprehensive victory over their British rivals in the final of a pre-Olympic test event this week.
AIS senior sports physiologist David Martin takes particular pleasure out of the win, insisting it’s no small feat.
He’s boiled the home advantage concept down to five combined powers – the pull of a vocal crowd, the absence of requisite travel, territoriality, a better understanding of local rules and, of course, the course.
In London, the men’s 250km road race route is an undulating, hilly affair.
Chief in Australia’s armoury is a better knowledge of the London-Surrey course, which Dr Martin and his team profiled during a covert reconnaissance mission last year.
It included smuggling three female cyclists onto the course – with the help of some baffled British bobbies – just before it was due to be used for an Olympic test event.
They managed to map the course extensively, with cyclists carrying a range of gizmos to test cadence and power outputs, monitor their heart rates, heat stress and more, while also highlighting congestion spots and other trouble points.
Dr Martin’s 13-man team spent five days on the mission, working 20-hour days and sharing rooms to keep down costs.
But he said the $10,000 trip, funded by the federal government, will undoubtedly boost Australia’s hopes in London, particularly compared to our last Olympic campaign in 2008, which delivered no road cycling medals.
“China scared us a little bit and we had to do almost everything during the race whereas we’ve collected a lot more information ahead of time for London,” he told AAP.
“We’ve really done our homework.”
It includes top-secret information regarding aerodynamics and special supplements, designed specifically for the London course and individualised for each cyclist.
“We’re also meeting with some very interesting people who are meteorologists and they’re doing some stuff that we can’t talk about,” Dr Martin said.
“But it’s some really interesting forecasting options for us about how to deal with the weather.”
He couldn’t put a figure on what Britain’s home advantage will be worth, but said Australia will be keen to press its less welcome consequences.
“You get anxiety, you can have politics, you have people getting emotional and you can start to become scared of failing versus being excited to win.
“So it’s no guarantee.”
The men’s road race will be contested on July 28 and the women’s a day later.