Commonwealth Games 2014: Young guns fired up but David Millar is still force to fear
The men’s cycling road race which concludes the action in Glasgow promises thrills and spills aplenty, with the winner difficult to call
Saturday 02 August 2014
Around midday on Sunday a group of angry men will be let loose on the streets of Glasgow. They will stream out of Glasgow Green and set course for Argyle Street and 12 loops of the city that will take in a scattering of its landmarks: the cathedral, George Square, Rottenrow and the Glasgow School of Art. Taking a dozen turns past the Charles Rennie Mackintosh masterpiece that houses the School of Art is a treat that would mollify many, but the only way for one of them to properly prick the angry bubble is to be the first man across the finish line to claim the final gold of the Commonwealth Games.
The men’s road race promises a suitably grand finale to the sporting action Glasgow has revelled in over the past 10 days, and with a forecast that glowers with stormy intent it may well prove a dramatic one too. The plot lines are rich – will Peter Kennaugh, angry at being left out of Sky’s Tour de France team, take gold for the Isle of Man to underline his promise on the road? Might Alex Dowsett, angry at being left out of Movistar’s Tour team, win a second Glasgow gold and underline his promise on the road? Might David Millar, angry at his own Tour omission by Garmin-Sharp, provide the fairytale finish that he and Scotland crave? Or might the Australians go and spoil everything?
Then there are the Welsh Sky team-mates Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe sharing lead duties. Thomas did ride the Tour, and opinion is divided as to whether taking that amount of miles into this afternoon’s scheduled 168km brings advantage or disadvantage against fresher but less tested opponents. And adding one final, and the largest, question mark is the weather. It is going to be wet.
“I think it’s wide open,” says Chris Boardman, the former world and Olympic champion who will commentate on the race for the BBC. “It’s not a dangerous course but a technical one, and with the weather forecast I expect people to come off. Take Rottenrow, for example – it’s a descent into a sharp right-hand dog-leg. If that’s wet it’s going to be treacherous. It’s an interesting course, chopping from big, wide roads to tight, technical ones. Realistically you need to ride in the first 30 to have a chance.”
It is a similar route to the one used for the national championships last year, a race won by Mark Cavendish. He would have been a strong favourite if injury today had not kept him at home. Instead it offers a chance for another Manxman, Kennaugh, or Dowsett or Rowe, to take the limelight and suggest there is life on the road for Britain beyond Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
Kennaugh has been with Sky from day one. His potential was widely recognised even before that. He has been part of British Cycling’s set-up since 2008, when he was part of the Olympic academy squad based in Tuscany. An Olympic break from the road in 2012 brought London gold, and back in Sky’s colours last year he was an important cog in the well-oiled Tour de France machine that purred Froome into yellow.
Come Tour time this year, though, Sky didn’t want him. The 25-year-old was not amused. “Their reasoning is that I’m not consistent enough,” he said of Sky’s decision. “I disagree.” Instead of France he found himself across the Alps, pounding the roads of Austria, and pounding them to good effect. He won the Tour of Austria and then came home to win the national championships.
“It’s been a really good couple of months,” he told Cycling Weekly. “I haven’t been stressing about anything. I feel like I’ve already proved what I can do, I don’t feel like I need to prove myself any more. It’s starting to get frustrating when the team says things like, ‘You need to go and prove yourself’.”
His victory in Abergavenny was on a course not thought suited to him. In contrast today’s should be, and he has the support of a good team. “I think he’s very well suited to the route,” said Boardman. “There’s very short climbs, some are nasty but they are 200-metre short, sharp bursts, and that suits him, plus he can sprint and he’s good tactically.
“There is the motivation factor – he will want to prove a point after being omitted from Sky’s team for the Tour, and he has already done so by winning the Tour of Austria. The downside for him is that everyone will know he is the man to beat.”
England do not have a stand-out leader. Like Thomas and Rowe in the Welsh team, they will shuffle their pack according to the progress of the race and the conditions. “We’ve got a real mix of riders,” said Dowsett, the 25-year-old from Essex. “I think we’re a team that suits a breakaway. If Scott Thwaites gets into a breakaway and it comes down to a group sprint, we’ve got a very good chance.”
It is a race of imponderables, and the biggest of the lot is Millar. The 37-year-old, devastated to be left out from what would have been his final Tour, admits he will be emotional in his last race on home soil before he retires at the end of the season. He was taken aback by the support offered him during the time trial.
“You have time to soak it up and you have to go pretty deep and tap into all your resources,” he said. “So I think having the home crowd is going to make a big difference. We have a real quality field and it’s going to be really aggressive from the gun. It’s not going to be a boring race, that’s for sure.”
There has been little that is boring in Millar’s long career. It has been an unpredictable series of twists and turns and ups and downs. Is there one last twist, one more left-field charge to leave the youngsters behind one final time?
“He’s a wily old dog,” said Dowsett. “He will be coming here with his full condition, full force, which can be scary. It is going to be really tough. The top tier of this race is world- class. It’s an easy race to finish top 10, but a very difficult race to win.”
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