After the spectacular (but politically dubious) opening ceremony the first road event was for the men. It was good to see Sir Chris Hoy, the multi Olympic medal winner on the track, carrying the British flag. The men’s road race of 250 kilometres starts and finishes on The Mall, then after a big loop through Woking, Guildford and Dorking, it takes in the climb of Box Hill out on a circuit of 9 laps, then heads back to central London via Hampton Court Palace and Kingston Upon Thames. At the start there was no sign of rain and there were big crowds lining the course.
The First Break of the Day
After a fast start past Buckingham Palace, the first break to become was instigated by Stuart O’Grady, 12 riders got together up front as there was a repeat of the Philippe Gilbert and black dog Tour situation, but there were no crashes. The escape consisted of; Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium), Marco Pinotti (Italy), Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan), Denis Menchov (Russia), Stuart O’Grady (Australia), Tim Duggan (USA), Lieuwe Westra (Netherlands), Jonathan Castroviejo (Spain), Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia), Michael Schar (Switzerland), Alexander Kristoff (Norway) and Sungbaek Park (Korea), GB were on the front to pull it back, but the gap was up to over 3 minutes after 30 kilometres, although there were no time checks. Stuart O’Grady remonstrated with the commissar for some information; they had not seen a blackboard and remember there are no race radios.
After 50 kilometres the 12 had 4 minutes and 12 seconds on the bunch, GB were still doing most of the chase work with a little help from Vasili Kiryienka of Belarus. As they hit Box Hill for the first lap the GB team came back to the front after trying to get the German and French teams to help with the work (which didn’t work).
Through the tight bends of Box Hill the riders were forced to climb out of the saddle, but it’s not a steep ramp. In the bunch there was a crash near the back of the peloton, quite a few riders were involved, but with little or no information from the race, it was hard to know who was involved. Riders from Iran, Lithuania and Guatemala were reported as was Spain’s Francisco Ventoso, but it looked like they all regained the bunch.
Through the feed the lead was 5:37 and Germany had put Tony Martin and Bert Grabsch on the front with GB’s Chris Froome and David Millar on their wheel ready to take up the work. The break was still not receiving any information and Tim Duggan (USA) was the next to drop back to the commissar’s car. Unsurprisingly Sungbaek Park of Korea was struggling at the back of the escape on Box Hill; he was still doing his work on the other parts of the circuit, but was having a technical problem with his bike and was eventually tailed off.
At the start of the 3rd time up Box Hill, Australia put Michael Rogers up the road from the bunch, this looked like a plan from the antipodeans, putting O’Grady in the break-away and then having the ex-time trial World champion (and Sky rider) Rogers cross to them.
106 kilometres raced in 2 hours and 37 minutes and the 11 leaders had slightly over 6 minutes in hand on the bunch and Rogers was 1 minute ahead of the GB and German led peloton. One wonders if the GB team will have anything left for the more important later stages of the race.
Rogers was pulled back on the 4th time up the climb and Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) attacked, he was joined by Philippe Gilbert & Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) Martin Elminger (Swiss) and Robert Gesink (Holland). The reaction came quickly from the peloton as a large group headed off in pursuit to get together with Nibali and Gilbert.
The chasers were; Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Vincenzo Nibali & Luca Paolini (Italy), Gregory Rast (Switzerland), Andriy Grivko (Ukraine), Lars Boom (Netherlands), Sylvain Chavanel (France), Jack Bauer (New Zealand), Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), Taylor Phinney (USA) and Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic), but they only had a small lead on the peloton and the escape was still over 3 minutes up.
100 Kilometres to Go!
So, the race situation had eleven leaders, with eleven chasers and the GB and German teams towing the peloton for their sprinters; Mark Cavendish (GB) and Andrй Griepel (Germany).
Tim Duggan (USA) with Lieuwe Westra (Holland) put pressure on the break to split the group on Box Hill, this didn’t achieve anything and they regrouped on the descent. The lead had 2 minutes on the Cav bunch with the Nibali/Gilbert group only just in front of the GB led peloton.
The leaders had 54 seconds and Nibali & Co. had 20 seconds on the peloton as they started the penultimate climb of Box Hill, Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) thought it a good idea to leave the chasers to try to cross over to the leaders, it was maybe not his best move as he only gained 10 seconds by the top of the Hill and he was still 30 seconds back from the leaders. Tony Martin abandoned.
The front of the race came together with around 70 kilometres to go, putting a big group of 22 riders leading by 45 seconds.
Alexander Kolobnev (Russia) jumped from the bunch to get across and then Gilbert tried again to split the leaders, the speed rose and more riders struggled to stay with the front of the race. Philippe Gilbert built up a gap as the Belgian team came to the front of the peloton to slow things down.
Gilbert had a 37 second lead, with 55 kilometres to go, on what was left of the chasers who were not much further ahead of the peloton.
Fabian Cancellara was in prime position to better his podium finish from Beijing in the road race, but a misjudged corner late in the race, spelled the end of his day, and likely his second broken collarbone of 2012.
The Last Climb of Box Hill
At the summit; Philippe Gilbert had 43 seconds on the chasers and 1:05 on some other riders who had clipped off the front and 1:21 on the Cav peloton which still included Boonen and Greipel. Three riders from Spain came to the front of the chasers and Gilbert was caught to give a big group 59 seconds ahead with 40 kilometres to the line. In the lead were Cancellara, Sanchez, Nibali, Boom, Fuglsang, Valverde, Chavanel, Kreuziger, Van Garderen, Phinney, Vinokourov, Gesink and quite a few others.
The Germans had to start working with GB as Austria’s Bernard Eisel was in his usual place in front of Mark Cavendish in the lead-out train. Van Garderen must still have the form in his legs from the Tour as he moves off the front; the Swiss riders pull him back as the gap was 55 seconds with Ian Stannard working for Cavendish.
The Germans put two to the chase work as Chris Froome went out the back and the gap went over a minute. The Swiss had four men amongst the 33 leaders to take Cancellara to the finish, as Spain and the USA also kept the speed high for the last 20 kilometres.
Vinokourov was always going to be the favorite in the two-up sprint, but Uran gifted the win to the soon to be retired attacker extraordinaire with a long look over his left shoulder at the worst moment.
The peloton didn’t seem to have any energy to catch the leaders as they came to into Richmond Park, Lars Peter Nordhaug (Norway) attacked and was pulled back by Gesink. The escape started to look at each other and there was a big crash for Cancellara on a tight bend.
The lead group pressed on with Spain and the USA working hard with a lead of 56 seconds in the last 10 kilometres. Fuglsang pushed hard causing Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakh) and Rigoberto Uran Uran (Colombia) to jump past him to get a gap from the leaders coming into the last 5 kilometres, Bradley Wiggins swung off the front to sit at the back.
Vino and Uran worked well together to hold off the chasers as they hit Marble Arch and the last kilometre up The Mall to the Palace. Vino sat on the Colombian’s wheel to 400 metres and then put in an enormous jump for the Gold Medal, Uran in Silver and then the chasers fought out a close battle for Alexander Kristoff of Norway to take the Bronze.
Vinokourov covers his face in disbelief – gold, twelve years after silver in Sydney behind Jan Ullrich.
Great Britain had a plan, but only four riders to work with and everyone knew what their plan was, so it didn’t work out. Cancellara crashed when in a perfect position and Tom Boonen, was with Andrй Griepel and Mark Cavendish back in the peloton.
Keep it PEZ for all the Olympic road events.
Men’s Olympic Road Race Result:
Gold. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) in 5:45:57
Silver. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Colombia)
Bronze. Alexander Kristoff (Norway) at 0:08
4. Taylor Phinney (United States of America)
5. Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan)
6. Stuart O’Grady (Australia)
7. Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium)
8. Gregory Rast (Switzerland)
9. Luca Paolini (Italy)
10. Jack Bauer (New Zealand).