A brilliant tactical display by the Australians handed their men and women gold medals in the Commonwealth Games road races through New Delhi's virtually deserted streets on Sunday.
Allan Davis and Rochelle Gilmore battled in searing heat to stay within touching distance before both hit the front in the final metres in an awe-inspiring display of stamina and guile.
The Australians also took bronze in the women's race after Chloe Hosking outsprinted New Zealander Joanne Kiesanowski in the home straight to finish just behind England's Lizzie Armistead. The men's race saw New Zealander Hayden Roulston grab the silver, ahead of Scotland's David Millar.
"Today we got the big win. It was a perfect race by the team," said an elated Gilmore. "We've been thinking about this for two years. We wanted to control the race to set up the sprint and we rode perfectly despite everyone throwing everything at us."
The Australian men and women rode as a unit throughout the gruelling course around Delhi's iconic Connaught Place, with the favourites, Mark Cavendish of the Isle of Man and Nicole Cooke of Wales, limping in outside of the medals. "We talked about the plan of attack for a year now. I really had no option but pulling it off," Gilmore said.
Delhi's retail hub, appropriately designed in the shape of a large wheel with radial roads spoking outwards from the centre, provided the perfect backdrop for two thrilling contests.
The women raced eight laps for 112km while the men completed 12 laps for 168km with the start-finish line on Parliament Street. It was a flat but technical course which set the scene for a sprint finish and so it panned out, with the medals decided in the last 100 metres in both events.
The men's race started to break up around mid-afternoon, with less than 70 of the 133 starters remaining as the temperature soared to 42°C (108°F). New Zealanders Hayden Roulston and Jack Bauer got away from the peloton with three laps to go, with Cavendish back in the pack.
Bauer attacked with just over two laps to go, opening a gap of 30 seconds, but was reeled in by a chasing pack led by Millar as the bell sounded for the final circuit.
The route was laden with sharp corners and sweeping turns which were ideal for sprinters like Davis to launch attacks as the course looped past such famous sights as India Gate.
The group began to splinter with half a lap to go, with Cavendish losing ground as Millar attacked several times inside the last 5km. World championship bronze medallist Davis, protected throughout the final laps by his team-mate Chris Sutton, who finished fifth, broke from the chasing group and hit the front in the home straight.
Despite the heat he found the reserves for a devastating finish less than a bike length ahead of Roulston. "I'm proud to represent my country and wouldn't be here without my team-mates," Davis said.
Roulston, who had been suffering from flu-like symptoms in the days before the race, said the plan had always been to do one hard lap to take out Cavendish. "It was a very hard race. The heat made it even more difficult. In the end it was just whoever had the power won," he said.
The pan-flat course ought to have played into the hands of star attraction Cavendish, who went into the race as the clear-cut favourite having won 15 stages in the past three editions of the Tour de France. But the Manx rider's legs let him down and he finished in seventh, a minute off the pace.
In the women's race, the field began to thin out by the 84km mark and the pace dropped going into the last lap as the peloton eased off. Anne Samplonius came through in front with half a lap left, with the English getting organised to let Emma Pooley go in the last 6km.
But they got their tactics wrong, with Pooley hitting the front too early. The New Zealander riders attacked with Australia in the box seats behind. Gilmore, who had managed to ride eight laps virtually unnoticed, came through after sitting near the front until the last 100m.
© AFP 2010
Australia's Rochelle Gilmore (R) and Chloe Hosking smile after winning the gold and silver medals