Cycling Road Race: Great Britain’s gold gamble was wrong
The men’s road race worked out perfectly for Team Great Britain, right until the point when the world’s best single-day riders shot up the road on the last climb of Box Hill.
The Brits tried a brave, and perhaps in hindsight arrogant, strategy that would have made heroes of all the team, had they won. Their aim was gold, no safety net, no silver and no plan B. To be fair, with so few men in each team there wasn’t room for a plan B, nobody had one.
In retrospect their gold gamble was wrong. A number of riders said before the race that it wouldn’t end in a bunch sprint, and neither the men’s nor women’s race did. It was also too much for four to control a race that wasn’t flat, and in which there was so much talent.
At one point it looked like British Cycling had drawn a straight line between the start and finish and worked out the most efficient way to get between the two. Then the last climb came and efficiency went out of the window.
Classics riders have a huge anaerobic capacity. Watch any one of the big single-day races and a point comes where everything instantly goes up a gear and stays there. It’s like they have a turbo on their engines.
That’s what happened on Saturday. Team GB rode like lions, but a lion’s prey only has to run that bit faster for just a few seconds, and effectively that’s what the winning break did.
The men’s road race wasn’t about plans and efficiency, it was about racing and seeing an opportunity. It was the difference between s stage race and a single day race. Team GB tried to apply Tour de France stage tactics to what was basically a single-day Classic, like the Tour of Flanders is.
My man of the match was Stuart O’Grady. He was the first attacker, and was still there at the end. His sixth place deserved a special medal, one made from a different metal for a man of a very different mettle.
But what about the winner? Alexandre Vinokourov is a convicted drugs cheat, but he is also a real racer. Part of me admires the way he saw what was happening and saw a way to win. He was by no means the strongest man there, but good racers don’t always have to be.
And if he won clean in what is supposed to be a clean era for cycling then isn’t that significant? Doesn’t it say class counts and you don’t need to dope?
Of course a lot of people didn’t like Vinokourov winning, and some of their argument is based on the fact that he’s never apologised for doping, unlike David Millar, who was riding for Team GB. But does he have to?
I don’t know. Personally I think if his fellow pro riders accept him then I should. After all, it was them he defrauded, not me. You might think differently, of course.
The women raced next day, and what a race it was. One of the best shows of women’s cycling I’ve ever seen.
For a start the best racer in the world won, and that’s always a good thing. But the other big impression it left on me was that they raced whatever the shortcomings of the course, and whatever the shortcomings of the weather.
It was an absorbing contest and one that reflected well on everyone in it.
I was thrilled with Lizzie Armitstead’s silver medal. She’s a product of an initiative British Cycling, cycling’s governing body in the UK, put into action some years ago.
They went into schools and invited kids, any kids, who wanted to race to have a go around a grass track they marked up outside in the playing field.
They visited Lizzie’s in Yorkshire one Tuesday afternoon when she had a math’s lesson. She didn’t like maths very much so, being a sporty girl and already a good runner, she tried cycling.
The coaches saw she was good, invited her to a more formal session, and the rest is history.
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