Britain head for the Road World Championships starting Sunday with two great chances of podium finishes in Bradley Wiggins and Lizzie Armitstead. But the head coach, Sir Dave Brailsford, has vowed there will be no repeat of last year’s championships, when the attitude of the GB men’s road-race squad came under fire after they all pulled out during the showcase event.
Wiggins is targeting Wednesday’s time trial – his only race – in which he won silver in 2011 and 2013. This year’s lumpy, technical course in the remote, north-west Spanish region of Ponferrada may favour him more than the defending champion, Tony Martin. But the German remains, with three straight victories from 2011 to 2013, the top contender.
At last year’s championships in Florence, Wiggins was defeated by Martin by 46 seconds in the race against the clock. Victory in the short time trial in the recent Tour of Britain is a morale booster for the Londoner, but Martin’s emphatic win in the Vuelta’s mid-race time trial shows he is in form too.
There is no Briton in the women’s time trial – no one was deemed fast enough – but in next Saturday’s women’s road race Armitstead’s victory in the World Cup series and Commonwealth Games this year will raise hopes that she can finish in the top three at least.
Although nations enter teams of between six and 10 riders in the road race they are there to support an individual over the line, but last year’s championships were disastrous for all of Britain’s men’s road-race squad. Like this year, they started with a line-up of considerable strength on paper but, as the rain teemed down, one by one they all abandoned – some because of crashes and injuries, others for less clear reasons.
GB’s endurance coach, Rod Ellingworth, was rightly angry, saying: “The lads’ attitude was not where it needed to be.”
Twelve months on, the road race a week tomorrow will initially be a test of whether that has changed and Brailsford – “on loan” from Team Sky as acting head coach – is adamant that it will have done.
“What’s very important is that we go in with a very disciplined, structured approach and determined to commit,” he said. “That’s non-negotiable. It’s all about mindset, discipline and giving it all for your country. And I’m sure we can perform well across the board.
“With Lizzie racing so well, that’s one of the most exciting prospects we’ve got. And our time trial [prospects with Wiggins] look good, too.” Sir Dave, as ever, would not be drawn on the number of medals Britain will be targeting.
There is a big question mark over who will win, let alone make the podium, in the men’s road race, which brings down the curtain on the Championships.
Riders of the calibre of Alejandro Valverde of Spain, the defending champion Rui Costa of Portugal, Australia’s Michael Matthews and Simon Gerrans, and Belgians Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert all look certain to have an impact, making for a deeply unpredictable event.
For Team GB, meanwhile, in the absence of Mark Cavendish, who has wisely rejected racing on a course that does him no favours, there is a wealth of potential outsiders, but no clear favourite.
Overall, GB will field an impressive range of riders, from veterans David Millar – bringing down the curtain on an 18-year career – and Steve Cummings to fast all-rounder Ben Swift, national champion Pete Kennaugh, Commonwealth Games gold medallist Geraint Thomas and the hugely promising young Yates twins, Adam and Simon.
Factor in a Tour de France winner in Chris Froome – although one-day racing is not his strongest suit – and it feels like Britain, even without a standout favourite, should be one of the big hitters.Reuse content