Tucked away in leafy Surrey, far from the fanfare and glitz of the Olympic village, Great Britain’s road cycling team has been putting the finishing touches to its plans for Saturday’s road race.
Mark Cavendish, the world champion, will line up as the favourite for the 250-kilometre race, possibly his biggest challenge in his career. Crucially though, he wont have to do it alone. Great Britain has assembled arguably its greatest ever road team, with four riders in top form all detailed to provide Cavendish with cover and sufficient support. Cavendish himself has dubbed them a “dream team” after they trained on the country roads in and around Surrey in the days leading up the Olympic Games.
“We were out today and we were just buzzing. The team came properly together yesterday, and we went out today and we were just motoring along in training. I looked around it, it’s just a dream team, there’s a dream team there,” he told the press at the team’s hideaway.
There’s little doubt that the home team will be expected to control the race. As soon as Cavendish declared his Olympic intentions last year, it became clear that the team’s only game-plan was to deliver him for the sprint. Despite no obvious lead-out man, his support is unquestionably strong. Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome finished one-two in the Tour de France, while David Millar won his first road stage in the Tour in nine years. Along with national champion Ian Stannard, the five-man team possess an enviable line up. However such strength will attract not just pressure but also attacks from rivals.
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And on a one-off course, with national colours rather than trade team uniforms, the race and the possible scenarios Great Britain become immeasurable to count. Only the Germans, with Andre Greipel, have a team akin to the British – with an all out sprinter their leader and four dutiful teammates. After that there are the Australians, who although they have Matt Goss’s sprint legs, also boast the likes of Cadel Evans and Simon Gerrans. They’ve promised to be aggressive too, and with the Spanish, French and Italians in similar positions, the race could come down to whether Great Britain can weather the storm, and if its tactics from Copenhagen’s Worlds can be broken down and successfully countered.
“It easy to get carried away with it to get emotional,” Cavendish said.
“It’s nerve-wracking. I’ve been nervous this week, but we’re trained to be able to deal with those nerves and you’ve got be able to put it to bed. As unromantic as it sounds, we’ve got a process that we’ve got to adhere to. It’s a process that we know if we commit to 100 percent and execute we’ve got the best chance of winning. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
“There are infinite things that can happen and that’s what makes cycling special. We’re racing in a sport with infinite variables, whether it’s luck, you have bad day and someone else has a good day.”
Such variables: a puncture, a crash, a poor position on the foothills of Box Hill, or even a mass number of attacks could all scupper Cavendish’s chances. However variables can only be dealt with as they arise, and no doubt Great Britain will no doubt aim to create variables for their opposition to overcome.
“If we wanted to win this bike race we couldn’t be in a better situation team-wise,” the world champion said.
“If we can make it a sprint then I’m the faster sprinter in the world, but I’m not the strongest climber in the world so we’ve got confidence in the sprint, but we’ve got to get there.”