Olympic Road Race: Gerrans over Goss for Gold
It would be folly for Australia to rely on Matt Goss out-sprinting the likes of Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan for the Olympic road race gold medal in London.
Goss has not got the better of his old team-mate Cavendish since the Giro d’Italia – and even then his victory came after the world champion was held up in a crash.
The 25-year-old sprinter is a great option to have should the race enter central London as one after a loop into the Surrey countryside that includes nine 15km leg-sapping circuits of Box Hill. But on form, Goss will not be able to better the man who less than a week ago secured his fourth win in succession on the Champs Elysees.
A better option for Australia, surely, is to get one or two of their riders into the break that will no doubt form on one of the early ascents of the 5 percent Box Hill.
Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans are the obvious candidates. Both riders enter the Olympics on the back of largely disappointing Tours: defending champion Evans slumped to seventh place on GC while Gerrans was unusually quiet, not even coming close to competing for a stage win.
Both Evans and Gerrans have the power and climbing ability to get away with a strong cluster of riders – and both riders can reserve a kick for when the race nears London. Should a break be reeled in, then Australia will still have Goss as a valid Plan B to pick up a medal on The Mall.
The Australian five-man team is very strong and incredibly experienced. Whether or not the team is “definitely in the hunt to challenge for the top step of the podium,” as Australian professional men’s coordinator and Athens Olympian Matt White vouches, is open to debate. But if they play their cards right, they should certainly have a say in matters.
Stuart O’Grady and Evans have 10 Olympic Games between them, while Gerrans and Goss have the speed and killer instinct. Utility man Mick Rogers is entering a purple patch on the back of his triumphant supporting role alongside Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky. He will be an invaluable road captain.
Sky’s Cavendish is the overwhelming favourite win win gold on “home soil” in the shadow of Buckingham Palace as the Queen watches from her balcony. Cav showed his form with two victories in three days at the back end of the Tour, while all other members of Team GB who featured in the Tour (Wiggins, Chris Froome and David Millar) picked up stage wins in France too. The fifth member, Ian Stannard, is the new British national champion, plus owner of one of the biggest engines in professional cycling.
But it is hard to control a 250km race with just five riders. That is where the element of surprise comes in Olympic and world championship road races. With some nations having just one rider (Sagan, for instance, is Slovakia’s sole representative) then inter-team alliances often form.
Cavendish and his Team Sky cronies, for instance, may be able to rely on Colombian duo Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao, not to mention Bernie Eisel of Austria. Rumour has it that Christian Knees was overlooked by Germany’s selectors primarily because of his ties to Team Sky and fears that he may feel compelled to offer support to his paymasters.
It’s not that simple, however. The chances of Edvald Boasson Hagen lending a hand to Sky, for instance, are minimal: not only did the Norwegian put his own Tour aspirations on hold for Messrs Wiggins and Cavendish in the Tour, he’s also perfectly suited to the kind of race we should see in London.
Having been booed by small pockets of fans in the Alps owing to his work for Wiggins during the Tour, Rogers would find the large antipodean population of Fulham, Earls Court and Putney far more feisty should he ever be tempted to helping out his Sky team-mates – so that we can certainly rule out too.
Australia’s five-man team is made up of three Orica-GreenEdge riders in O’Grady, Goss and Gerrans – but it’s worth remembering there will be another five in the 144-strong field on Saturday. Switzerland’s Michael Albasini, South Africa’s Daryl Impey, Japan’s Femiyuki Beppu, Sebastien Langeveld of the Netherlands and little-known Eritrean Daniel Teklehaymanot could all prove useful allies during the course of a race that will no doubt have many twists and turns.
One thing is for sure: attacks will come in aplenty as all nations try and crack the world’s fastest man on two wheels. As Philippe Gilbert said: “It’s everyone against Mark Cavendish”. For Cavendish, London 2012 is the crowning moment of his season; the Tour was a mere warm up. If the new-look Cav is slender and less bulky, it’s precisely with those nine laps of Box Hill in mind.
After all the build-up and hype, Team GB is not going to be too enamoured with the idea of their star man being distanced. A 40km run-in to London, in theory, should see a break reeled in – especially seeing that the British could rely on help from, funnily enough, the Germans: Andre Greipel is one of the only riders who has got the better of Cavendish head-to-head this season.
Germany, however, could well throw John Degenkolb into the break as a Plan B. The likes of Gilbert and his Belgian team-mate Tom Boonen will also look to break clear on the circuits so as to avoid a bunch gallop on the streets of London. Sagan, the 22-year-old Tour green jersey and triple stage winner, has the ability to distance Cavendish too – and should he be part of a break, then the Slovakian would be a huge favourite.
Of course, the possibilities are endless and the race will no doubt be charged, nervous and dramatic. It will be a classic – but also a Classic, given its long and demanding parcours. Goss, Evans, O’Grady and Gerrans have all won spring classics in the past: together they have to combine well on at least two fronts and show that the selectors got it right.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.
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