Starting the first day of the London Olympics with a bang, the men’s Olympic road race starts on The Mall at 10am on Saturday 28th July and finishes in a possible bunch sprint at c.15.40 in the afternoon. This is going to be one of the most hotly contested one-day races of the season and all the big boys are out for it: Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Matt Goss, Peter Sagan …
Starting on The Mall, the peloton rides south through Putney, Richmond Park, Hampton Court on their way to Dorking and the main event – nine laps of Box Hill. The peloton is due to start their first circuit at 11.40 and finish at 2.50 in order to start racing back through Esher, back through Hampton Court, Richmond Park, Putney and Fulham until the finish line back where they started on The Mall. London’s Champs-Elysees, if you will.
As this is one of the few events of the Olympics that isn’t completely ticketed (tickets only required for The Mall and Box Hill), it’s estimated that there could be hundreds of thousands of spectators lining every inch of the route. If you want a good spot, get there early and be prepared to stand your ground.
Team GB is packing some real firepower with Cavendish being supported by Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and runner-up Christopher Froome, fellow Sky strongman Ian Stannard and, as road captain, David Millar. Although four out of five of these men finished the Tour de France just last week, Dave Brailsford, Team GB’s grand poobah, is confident that they are far from spent but are, in fact, stronger than ever. Cavendish has lost kilo after kilo in order to lighten himself up for those nine gruelling laps on Box Hill, but has shown that he hasn’t lost any of his powerful sprint speed, as can be seen in his finish on the Champs on Sunday. If Team GB can keep it together and lead Cav out for a bunch sprint (not unlike what they did in the World Championships last year) then betting against Cav for the win would be foolish.
But all the other teams know this and therefore the tactics will almost certainly be to either drop Cav and his team on the laps around Box Hill and not let him come anywhere near the finish or isolate him so if it does end in a bunch sprint, he won’t have a strong lead-out. Either way, you can bet the German team, headed by Greipel and the Australian team, with Goss chomping at the bit to salve the wounds from all those ‘almost-rans’ in the Tour this year, will be riding hard right from the gun.
But so will a certain Green Jersey winner, Peter Sagan. He is on a hot streak at the moment and the course suits him, with the climbs in the middle. If he can get out ahead of Team GB on Box Hill and be in the mix for the final sprint, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to think he could bring home the gold to match his green this month. That said, he is the only rider for Slovakia so he would need to make an alliance with another team for some support. But I still wouldn’t put it past him to be on the top step of the podium.
There’s also another possibility, admittedly more of an outside chance, and that would be for the strong Classics men to make sure they hit the narrow roads of Box Hill first and power their way through the laps and just romp away from the field. With Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen perhaps fresher than the Tour riders, and Philippe Gilbert desperate to salvage something from his abyssmal season, we might see these big boys wrest control from Team GB and tear up the road for themselves.
Some of the other strong teams coming into the race are Spain, which has a full contingent of five riders, including Luis Leon Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde; Netherlands with Lars Boom and Niki Terpstra among their five; France, who comes with four riders, including Sylvain Chavanel and Norway, with one of the Tour’s mighty men, Edvald Boasson Hagen, at the helm of four.
There are 145 riders down on the start list, many of whom do not ride in the professional peloton. What they might bring to the race is one of those great unknowns – and how the peloton will cope with the narrow country roads on a route charged with spectactor energy is another. Whatever happens, I reckon it’ll be a great start to London 2012. But let’s leave the last word to Mark Cavendish:
Link here for detailed route map with estimated timings.