Why Team GB lost the one they were supposed to win

The Mall

Mark Cavendish in flying form, British morale at an all-time high after Bradley Wiggins's 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 in the world. How could it possibly have gone so wrong for Team GB in yesterday's road-race?

The short answer to that is that for 85 per cent of the race it hadn't. For over 200km of the 250km 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 escaped from the start was pegged back to a minute, a manageable difference.

As the race powered up Box Hill for the final time that, perhaps, was the root of the problem: the British were doing too well. And with Cavendish's failure to falter on the nine climbs of the hill confirming that he had not lost his condition after the Tour, many teams clicked that if they did not attack at that point, a bunch sprint was all but inevitable. 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," said Spain's road coach Jose Luis De Santos, who placed three Spanish riders into the 30-strong break that finally decided the race.

With one-day specialists of the calibre of Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Sylvain Chavanel (France) and the eventual winner Alexandr Vinokurov doing the same, suddenly Britain were on the back foot.

First Chris Froome, then David Millar and finally Wiggins dropped 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," said Millar.

"We rode the exact race we wanted to ride," Cavendish explained. "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 250km and we couldn't do more. We are human beings."

"Technically the Brits did a perfect race," added the veteran US racer Chris Horner. "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 40km, four riders – crucially, three less than the seven who supported Cavendish's World Championship win – 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 on the other riders in the break because they realised their chances of success had increased hugely as a result. And that, coupled with a gentle but perceptible tailwind speeding the break on its way, spelled curtains for the British who had, almost unaided, managed to keep the break at 45 to 55secs for almost 30km.

The knock-on efforts of riding a Tour de France cannot be blamed for the British defeat; most top riders will be riding 250km races like the Clásica San Sebastian, a Spanish one-day event, the Saturday after the Tour's final stage.

In 2009 Cavendish himself won a very tough one-day race in Germany, the Sparkasse Classic, in torrential rain 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."

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine