LONDON (AFP) — Hosts Great Britain will look to build on the momentum of Bradley Wiggins’ historic Tour de France win when cycling’s road races offer a chance of gold glory on the opening weekend of the Olympics.
But only six days after becoming the first British cyclist to win the coveted yellow jersey, Wiggins, this time, is likely to find himself working for British sprint king and Sky teammate Mark Cavendish. The Manxman, the reigning world champion, had a slow start to the Tour de France — winning a stage in the first week but then being upstaged by rivals like German André Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Slovakian Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale).
Cavendish’s comparatively thin stage win haul led some to speculate whether the “Manx Missile” would be the man to beat if the 250km men’s road race on Saturday were decided by his favored scenario of a bunch sprint. Retired sprint specialist Robbie McEwen of Australia wondered whether Cavendish’s decision to race both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France this year could offer hope to his rivals.
“The big thing for Cav’ will be recovering enough to be sharp enough on the day itself,” McEwen told AFP midway through the Tour de France.
“Some guys will come out of the Tour flying, but it’s so hit and miss. You don’t know if you’re going to be up or down.”
By the end of the Tour on Sunday, any doubts whether Cavendish’s legendary top-end speed was on the wane evaporated like the dust eaten twice by his rivals as he left them in his wake on stages 18 and 20.
After victory on Sunday’s 20th and final stage, Cavendish boldly declared: “I’ve had good form since the Giro d’Italia, everything’s been on target since then and it still is.
“I’m looking forward to next Saturday now.”
Some major gold medal contenders, such as Spain and Italy, however could be without key sprinters for the Games.
And that means Britain, with Cavendish, and Germany, with Greipel, could end up working together to stop teams with strong breakaway riders disrupting their plans.
David Millar, who will act as Britain’s road captain, admits some pre-race bargaining could be on the cards.
“We’ll have to go through numerous scenarios beforehand and have to speak to other team captains,” Millar said at the Tour recently.
“In cycling, it’s a strange one — we form alliances. We kind of look at the other team selections to see who’s going to be relying on similar tactics to us.
“Then it will be up to me to go and talk to those team captains and come to a gentlemen’s agreement that we both want it to finish in a (bunch) sprint.
“But there will be other teams whose whole mission is to make it impossible for us to get there in a sprint situation.”
A similar scenario could emerge in the 140km women’s race on Sunday.
Britain will start the race with two possible leaders in defending Olympic champion Nicole Cooke and her successor-in-waiting Lizzie Armitstead.
A spat erupted between the pair in the wake of the world championships in Copenhagen last year after Cooke went for glory herself having seen Armitstead fall out of contention in a hectic finale.
Instead of naming a single team leader, Team GB has taken a diplomatic approach, according to team coach Chris Newton.
“We’ve got Nicole, former champion, to use. She will be given the rein of attacking and riding from an aggressive point of view,” said Newton.
“If that succeeds, we’re very happy for Nicole to go for glory and ride for that win.
“If it came down to a sprint, Lizzie is the leader. But Lizzie is not in the same league as Cav’ is in the men’s road race.
“You take Cav to the finish and you’re guaranteed a win, pretty much. It’s fair to say that Lizzie’s not in that category at the moment.”