The Next Big Battle: Australia takes on the Olympic Road Race
A country policeman ambling his watchful way through a thatched village, the district nurse pedalling to deliver another baby; they were the images of cycling in Britain. And they lasted in some quarters, even in our media, until about a month ago.
Now Britain has gone bike bonkers.
Cycling is our number one sport-of-the-moment; yeah, football will take over in winter, but let’s bask in it for now. Bike books occupy 12 slots of the top-20 British sports best sellers. Every newspaper front page had Bradley Wiggins wining the Tour de France last Monday morning.
Anybody who’s in cycling is in demand. I was interviewed live on TV from my back yard by Sky News during the final stage of the Tour de France, and even plumb-their-mouth BBC have invited me past their hallowed portals.
Cycling is big here, and it looks like it’s staying that way, at least for a while. But our Tour de France stars have hardly had time to bask in the glory, because we’ve got another big hit of sport coming up; the Olympic Games.
The Great Britain versus Australia contest didn’t turn out the way I thought it would in the Tour, and I apologise for all those ‘Ashes Tour’ headings. However, Olympic cycling looks like being a much closer contest, and it all kicks off on Saturday with the men’s road race.
One-off races like the Worlds and Olympics are fascinating. National teams and unpredictable courses take pro racers out of their comfort zone, but how would you play it if you were deciding the Australian team’s tactics on Saturday?
You could play for a sprint, and Team GB and Germany will be comfortable with that, they have Mark Cavendish and Andre Greipel to play.
A sprint would be a good banker for a medal, but it won’t win Australia the gold.
Last year’s worlds ended with a Cavendish, Goss and Greipel podium, and I think Cav has got better.
Matt Goss was nowhere near him in the drag race going up the Champs Elysees last Sunday. In fact he blew up trying to get past and lost second place to Peter Sagan. Silver is the best Goss can expect in a gallop along the Mall.
Better to play the strong-man card and get in a break. There are plenty of strong teams in the Olympics who don’t want the race to end with a sprint.
The Belgians are up for it with Boonen and Gilbert, although neither of them are in sparkling form at the moment. The Italians want to win gold, so do the Spanish, and the French have players to play. None of these teams want a sprint.
And there is some scope to this course, although in my opinion it’s a compromise created to showcase London more than a test of cycling ability that the Olympic road race should be.
Simon Gerrans would be a good man to get in a break, although I feel he’ll be a bigger threat on the world championship course in Holland later on.
But what about Cadel? The Tour de France must have hurt his pride. Stomach problems cost him any chance of making a fight of his defence.
The race involves a leg out of London, some hills in Surrey and eight laps of a small circuit based on Box Hill, which is just over one kilometre long and steep at the start. That bit suits Evans, but the final 30 kilometres become progressively flatter as the race heads back into central London to finish right outside Buckingham Palace.
However, I see the race being very aggressive, just like the 2009 worlds were. It will be action throughout with Belgium, Italy and France trying to shed Cavendish, and Team GB doing everything they can to counter.
The battle will go on and on, right to the death, creating lots of tired legs. Could Cadel Evans fire up his turbo-diesel body, clip off the front in the last few miles and hold everybody off to win? Yeah, it’s a bit left-field but it’s surprising what pride can do.
So that’s what I’d go for. Try to get Evans in a break and save the rest to lead out Goss as plan B.
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