Why Britain lost out on cycling gold

 

Mark Cavendish in flying form, British morale on an all time high after Bradley Wiggins' victory in the Tour de France, four out of five riders stage winners in the Tour and an Olympic team regularly touted as the strongest team in the world... how could it possibly have gone so wrong for Team GB at Saturday's  road-race?

The short answer to that is that for 85 percent of the race - it didn’t. For over 200 kilometres of the 250 kilometre race, things actually went swimmingly for Great Britain. With virtually no assistance from anyone bar the Germans - and that was limited - the blue-clad GB riders spearheaded the main pack. After eight laps of Box Hill - the crunch point of the entire race - the  breakaway of 12 that had been away from the start was pegged back to a minute, a manageable difference.

And that, as the race powered up Box Hill for the final time, perhaps was the root of the problem: the British were doing too well. Many teams clicked that if they did not attack at that point, a bunch sprint was all but an inevitability. And with Cavendish’s form on an all-time high after the Tour  - and his failure to falter on the nine climbs of Box Hill confirmed that he had not lost his condition  - it was now or never. They had to make a move.

“We had planned that all the way from the beginning of the race to do something on Box Hill, but after what the British did we knew at that point we had to strike” Spain’s road coach Jose Luis De Santos, who placed three Spanish riders into the 30-strong break that finally decided the  race, told The Independent.

“The Britons had controlled the race perfectly up til then. So we got Alejandro [Valverde] and Luis Leon [Sanchez] on the attack.” And with one-day specialists of the calibre of Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Sylvain Chavanel (France) and Vinokourov doing the same math and in the move, too, suddenly Britain were on the back foot.

Although Germany’s support was marginally more intense after Box Hill, it was never sufficient, and the riders they had to use - huge powerhouses like Bert Grabsch  - were a little out of their depth on the rolling roads that followed. And at that point Britain’s lengthy efforts to keep the race under control began to show, with first Froome, then Millar and finally Wiggins dropping back - all exhausted.

“The race was six hours long and we’d done five and a quarter hours on the front, I just didn’t have that extra little bit,” commented Britain’s David Millar.

"We rode the exact race we wanted to ride,” Cavendish told the BBC.  “We wanted to control it and we wanted the group at a minute. We expected teams to come and chase at the end with us. We controlled it with four guys for 250 km and we couldn't do more. We are human beings.”

“Technically the Brits did a perfect race” commented  veteran US racer Chris Horner, racing his first Olympic Games at 40, “I would have done it exactly as they did.”

“They played to their strengths, which was working for Mark Cavendish, playing it easy on the ascents of Box Hill and then harder everywhere else” - so the other riders would be deterred from attacking. But without the support of other sprinter-led teams on the crucial last forty kilometres, four riders  - crucially,  three less than the seven who supported Cavendish's successful World's bid - were never going to be able to bring back 30.

The loss, late-on, of a top Classics rider like Cancellara in the front group, bizarrely, did not benefit the British pursuit: instead when the Swiss rider crashed, it spurred the other riders in the break on to greater efforts - given they realised their chances of success had increased hugely as a result of his absence. And that, coupled with a gentle but perceptible tailwind speeding the break on its way yet further, spelled curtains for the British who had almost unaided managed to keep the break at 45 to 55 seconds for almost 30 kilometres.

The knock-on efforts of riding a Tour de France cannot be blamed for the British defeat: most top bike riders will be riding 250 kilometre races like the Clásica San Sebastian, a Spanish one-day event, the Saturday after they ride up the Champs Elysées in the Tour’s final stage. In 2009 Cavendish himself won a very tough one-day race in Germany, the Sparkasse Classic, in torrential rainfall five days after the Tour.

“They played the best they could and their racing tactics were spot on,” said De Santos. “Simply, the cards didn’t fall their way.”

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone