Apparently all the Team GB dream team had to do was turn up, deliver the Manx Missile (AKA Mark Cavendish) to the line, and she’ll be peaches, guv’nor.
Except, it didn’t happen like that. Not at all. Instead, we were treated to a break that stayed away all day, and that swelled in size as multiple groups bridged. A late attack in the last 2km saw Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) (an infamous name, known as much for his attacking style and numerous wins as his expulsion from the 2007 TdF for a blood transfusion gone wrong) go clear with Rigoberto Uran (Col). In a two up sprint you’d put money on Uran 99 times out of 100, but Uran was caught napping, or more precisely taking a long peek back at the chasing group, and Vino jumped clear to sprint for the gold medal.
For Vino, it is a bit of justice after Sydney 2000, where the race was dominated by Team Telekom riders (a German trade team), who instructed them to let the German rider Jan Ulrich win. The 39 year-old
Boratian Kazakhstani rider will be retiring this year, and with a last gasp golden present to leave on the mantle peice to boot.
Really, from the get go only three teams showed they were keen for a mass bunch sprint: GB (for Cav), Germany (for Greipel) and Belarus (for Hutarovich), with GB being left to do most of the work. No worries, you thought. GB had been talking it up how they were the “Dream Team”, and this would be a walk in the park.
For Australia, it became apparent the Goss was plan B, and plan A was Stuey, Cadel, Rogers and Gerrans getting away, in a similar style to the powerful teams from Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Belgium. The basic plan was to make it too hard for a bunch sprint by attacking constantly, and if it comes to a sprint, leave one a sprinter there just in case Cav fails.
For GB, Cav was plan A, plan B, plan C, all the way to plan Z. You knew on what side they had buttered their bread, as if you didn’t need the constant pre-race crowing about how this was team GB’s race to know it. The rest of the world, outside of GB, were hoping for Team GB and their director Dave Brailsford to suffer some hubris. And it goes to show, dreams do come true.
The Early Break
An early break of 12 got away, started by Stuey O’Grady. These weren’t some weekend hackers though, or some second tier pros trying to get their team some television time. The early break had some top riders who’d won Monuments and GTs, and others who were perennial contenders. Some big names included the evergreen O’Grady (Aus), Menchov (Rus), Pinotti (Ita), Brajkovic (Slo) and Roelandts (Bel). GB seemed unperturbed, though, and the lead grew to comfortably over 5 minutes.
Michael Rogers seemed to realise the threat posted by the breakaway and indicated Australia’s lack of desire to help GB (and, occasionally, Germany and Belarus) with the chase by posting a lone, and ultimately, fruitless chase attempt to the breakaway.
As the laps went on, GB worked on the front as in a mass TTT, and the gap came down. Then the attacks started, thanks to Nibali and Gilbert. After a first failure to get away on Box Hill, they tried again on the subsequent lap, and all of a sudden a chase group of 11 riders was joining the breakaway, led by Gilbery and Nibali. Unfortunately, the Aussies missed the boat as they sat too far back. Gilbert even tried an audacious 60km or so solo ride in, but was soon caught.
GB tries…and fails
It seemed, though, that GB, with some help from Germany, had the now 22 man break well in control as the gap came down to around 50 seconds. Then came the last ascent of Box Hill, and a final group bridged across, including pre-race favourite Cancellara (Swi). With both Spain and Switzerand now having 3 men, including team leaders in Valverde (Spa) and Cancellara, plus the USA having a strong TJVG riding for Phinney, the remaining domestiques rode hard on the front of the break, while one by one the GB domestiques fell away, and the gap started to grow again on the flat 50km run in to the finish line. As the gap reached 1 min 22 seconds with 20km, it was clear that the peloton was never going to catch the breakaway, and team GB might as well give up.
In the front group, Kristoff (Rus) was the only recognised sprinter and now favourite, but Cancellara, Stuey, Phinney and Valverde all were recognised as fast finishers in their own right. Coming into the last few kilometres, Cancellara, one of the best bike handlers in the peloton, misjudged a corner and crashed, ultimately leaving us with the sad sight of the man in tears as his Olympic dream was cruelly dashed.
Surely anyone but Vino?
Vino and Uran then sprung their final attack, and the disorganised breakaway no longer had any domestiques or riders willing to bury themselves in the chase. Kristoff sprinted for third, narrowly beating a clearly disappointed Phinney into fourth. Stuey managed a very credible 6th, considering he spent the whole day out in the breakaway.
No doubt that it will be asked if the unrepentent doper Vino winning is good for the sport, but for me, anyone but the “cycling gods” of team GB was a good result.
Then came the moment all of GB was waiting for, as Cav “bravely” sprinted for 27th place, only to be beaten out by both Greipel (Ger) and Boonen (Bel), taking home a proud 29th place for the Dream Team. Goss didn’t even both to sprint, finishing well back in the peloton with the remainder of the Australian team.
So what of my pre-race suggestions? Hutarovich finished comfortably in the peloton, not bothering to sprint. Boonen chose to sit on and sprint, and out sprinted Cav to boot, although he got beaten by Greipel into the prestigous 27th place. Gilbert attacked multiple times, including an insane long shot a long way from home, and finished comfortably back in the breakaway at 19th, one spot behind Valverde, who was 18th. Cancellara I maintain was a real shot at winning until he tragically crashed out so close to home. Not great, but if anyone told me what the top 5 would be the morning of the race, I would have politely told them (with some French) how crazy they are.