'Infinite variables' make Mark Cavendish nervous ahead of Olympic road race


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The Independent Online

Mark Cavendish will seek to claim Great Britain's first gold medal of the London 2012 Olympic Games on The Mall tomorrow.

The 27-year-old world champion from the Isle of Man is aiming to continue the momentum of the Tour de France with success in the 250-kilometre road race, which features nine ascents of Surrey's Box Hill, with rivals lauding him as "invincible" and the clear favourite.

Although he relishes the task in front of an anticipated roadside audience of one million, Cavendish knows it is far from a straightforward prospect and he will need the full support of his four team-mates, Tour winner Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, David Millar and Ian Stannard.

Cavendish, a winner of 23 Tour stages, said: "We're racing in a sport with infinite variables, whether it's luck or someone has a good day, you have a bad day. That's what makes cycling special. It's also what makes you nervous."

Cavendish refuses to even contemplate the prospect of glory, considering only the run-in to the finish in front of Buckingham Palace.

He said: "Sorry to say but it's not as romantic as it sounds. It's a straight, then a right-left, then a slight downhill, bearing left, wide finish."

If all goes to plan, Cavendish will unleash his trademark sprint after the peloton pass the Queen Victoria Memorial.

But it will require a momentous effort, according to Millar, who has the responsibility of road captain, calling the tactical shots.

Millar said: "If it goes to plan it will be one of the biggest performances we've ever seen in road racing.

"It doesn't matter if we're catching people with 500 metres to go, as long as we're there with Mark to do that, so that he can do his sprint."

The 35-year-old, who describes himself as an "ex-doper", was named in the team after the British Olympic Association's lifetime ban on doping was overturned and is thrilled to be at his first Games since Sydney.

"I feel like I'm part of something special," he said.

"It's the perfect storm, with Wiggo winning the Tour, Cav being Cav and us being here right now."

Cavendish has already been anointed champion in many people's eyes, but surviving the Box Hill loop with a small enough deficit to allow him and his British team-mates to chase any riders up the road is integral to success.

Cavendish, who has lost four kilograms to improve his climbing ability, said: "If I didn't have a team here, there's no way I could say I'll get over Box Hill nine times alone.

"It's not just Box Hill, it's everything after it. I needed four of the best bike riders in the world to be able to do that.

"Luckily I've got four of the strongest bike riders in the world around me."

Cavendish knows the route in intimate detail as he bids for a successful conclusion to a project which has been planned for some time by British Cycling performance director Dave Brailsford and his team.

Men's road coach Rod Ellingworth said: "We've got one goal and one goal only."

While Britain are taking the event seriously, Wiggins is concerned France are making a mockery of the road race by selecting Mickael Bourgain in their four-man team, despite being primarily a track sprinter.

The selection is to take advantage of a loophole in regulations which allows Bourgain to be an additional rider in the velodrome, where competition begins on day six.

"I wouldn't dare go up in a sprint against those guys just for the hell of it," Wiggins said.

Bourgain is unlikely to even complete the course, let alone contend, but there are numerous rivals to Cavendish's tilt at glory.

Germany's Andre Greipel and Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who, like Cavendish, each won three stages at the Tour, are highly fancied.

Sagan is the lone rider from Slovakia, but Brailsford believes his ability and presence in any break could be detrimental to that escape and could benefit Britain.

Belgian duo Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert are also rivals and piling the pressure on Cavendish.

Boonen said: "In a bunch sprint he (Cavendish) is almost invincible at the moment. I think the British team will try to drag him over that hill and help him catch up with the group time and again.

"If he is capable of surviving the (Box Hill) circuit, which I actually think he is, it will be very hard to beat him."

Gilbert added: "We are all beaten if we finish at the sprint with Cavendish, even Tom. So we have to try to attack and make it the hardest possible race."

Australia have options within their team, with Simon Gerrans favouring a break.

Gerrans said: "As soon as you get to the circuit, I think the race is going to be on, because it will be important to make the race quite selective from early on."