Procycling magazine's deputy editor, Ellis Bacon, enjoys the sights and sounds of the men's Olympic roadrace, and only just avoids getting chucked out ofChina…
Procycling laughed in the face of jetla… Zzzzzzzzzz…
Procycling laughed in the face of jetlag on Saturday morning and headed to the start of the men’s road race just south of Beijing’s city centre. Six-and-a-half hours of toil later – as much for those of us watching as for the riders – it was Spain’s Samuel Sanchez who sprinted across the line at the Great Wall of China to take gold. After Carlos Sastre took the nation’s third-straight Tour de France win in July, it appears that the Spanish Revolution shows no sign of abating.
With most of the athletes quite rightly worried about the heat at the start – many were predicting that only a handful would finish the 245km race in the heat and high humidity – it wasn’t until around the 60km mark that the peloton really started riding, with a 25-strong group moving away from the main field to chase back the early two-man break of Horacio Gallardo (Bolivia) and Chile’s Patricio Almonacid.
The group included Sastre, Luxembourg’s Kim Kirchen and Australia’s Simon Gerrans, but what better advert for the rude health of Spanish cycling, and for cycling in general, than to have the Tour champ himself on the front of the race with the Great Wall as a backdrop?
Later, save for sprinter Oscar Freire, it was the whole Spanish team, with Sastre leading the charge along with Alejandro Valverde and 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador, who would work to help set up Sanchez.
Honourable mentions should also go to Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck for his gutsy attacks up the final climb, and to eventual bronze medallist Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland for dragging Australia’s Michael Rogers and Russia’s Alexandr Kolobnev back up to the leading trio of Schleck, Sanchez and silver-scoring Italian Davide Rebellin, making for an intriguing, and exciting, six-up sprint.
Tour runner-up Cadel Evans, too, showed his strength on that final climb, proving that those who had ridden for three weeks around France had come to the Olympic road race with the best chance of taking gold.
But Sanchez – with no mean Tour ride this July himself, taking seventh overall – can now more than proudly stand alongside his hitherto better-known Spanish-squad team-mates, and yes, why not perhaps become the fourth Spaniard in as many years to win the Tour next year?
The previous evening, ‘fresh’ off the plane, we’d headed out onto the streets of Beijing with the masses, like them to watch the big bang of the opening ceremony, starting at 8:08pm on the 08/08/08.
If you didn’t know already, eight is a lucky number in China. Yep, like you, Procycling learns all of its world culture from the HSBC bank commercials…
What was extraordinary to see was that rather than an oppressed Chinese public, everyone was in fact happy, friendly and excited… and had zero respect for authority.
As the hordes of police, military and security guards pushed us back with a mobile police cordon, apparently for no reason, groups would duck, laughing, underneath and run to a better vantage point from where to watch the fireworks above the Bird’s Nest stadium, to the protestations of the figures of authority, who would half-heartedly, and comically, try to catch them. But no one was going to ruin the people’s Beijing party.
We were out exploring with Tom Cartmale from Oakley, but as he took the opportunity to rush with the latest wave over the plastic barrier, Procycling paused a beat too long, got their watch caught on the polythene and were grabbed by a soldier as they tried to detangle…
It was a case of, “Leave me here – save yourself!” as the sunglasses man disappeared into the renegade throngs, while the man from your favourite bike mag suffered the ignominy of at least 300 members of the public laughing themselves stupid at the foolish foreigner getting caught by the military man in the funny hat.
But deportation was avoided when, suddenly, the barrier fluttered, untended, to the ground, and we all moved forward again for a better view. People power, it seemed, had won out. It felt like being part of a revolution…