With the Tour de France now a fading memory, the Olympic programme complete and the Vuelta a Espana fast approaching on the horizon, the VeloVoices team is again reviewing the performances of our selected riders to watch in 2012. I’m following three of the sport’s fastest men: reigning world champion Mark Cavendish, Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel and Liquigas-Cannondale’s Peter Sagan. They have experienced differing fortunes since we last checked in on them pre-Tour, so here’s a quick run-down of how they have been doing over the past few weeks.
Mark Cavendish (Sky)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Results: Won three stages at the Tour de France, fourth in points classification. 29th in Olympics road race.
WorldTour ranking: 27th, 128 points.
By his high standards, July proved to be a disappointing month for the world champion. An early sprint victory on stage two at the Tour de France demonstrated his ability to win without a dedicated train, but also underlined the fact that for the first time in his career he was not his team’s top priority, as Sky focussed on delivering Bradley Wiggins to overall victory. There then followed a 15-stage drought – the longest of Cavendish’s Tour career – before a bravura will-he-won’t-he chase-down of a disintegrating break saw him taste victory again in Brive on stage 18.
3 weeks of suffering physically, mentally & emotionally starts today. But the image of Champs Élysées is the most beautiful target in sport.
Victory on the Champs-Élysées on the final stage for the fourth consecutive year was no surprise, but the manner of victory – a long solo sprint from 350 metres out – was. He now has 23 Tour stage wins, putting him fourth on the all-time list. [Okay, okay, you can stop drooling now – Ed.]
The real target for July, though, was a gold medal in the road race at his ‘home’ Olympics in London. However, GB’s five-man team could not control the race on their own and a large breakaway got away and stayed away, leaving a disappointed Cavendish to finish in the main field, a distant 29th.
Since then, he has taken out his disappointment on the road, winning three criterium races before joining the BBC TV team to provide analysis on their track cycling coverage. However, the big topic of conversation surrounding Cavendish at the moment is who he will ride for next season. Sky was a useful (and lucrative) marriage of convenience to help him prepare for the Olympics, but could he perhaps be sporting the colours of Omega Pharma-Quick Step next season? We shall see.
Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano)
Image courtesy of Argos-Shimano
Results: Withdrew on stage five of the Tour de France with stomach problems. Currently racing at the Eneco Tour – one stage win so far.
WorldTour ranking: N/A. 10th in UCI Europe Tour rankings, 267 points.
It has been a quiet couple of months for the young German sprinter, who entered the Tour de France with high hopes of securing a sprint victory which would announce himself on cycling’s biggest stage. However he never figured in the action after being laid low with stomach problems which – how shall we describe it? – left him wishing he was wearing AG2R’s brown shorts.
Or, as he put it:
@gemmadd belly is ok, but full with water from the bottles. There seems to be a problem with my drain. Hope the plumber can fix it. 😉
He spent much of the first few days taking suppositories, downing as much water as his body could hold and constantly limping home off the back of the bunch before finally admitting defeat and climbing off early on stage five.
Kittel has returned to WorldTour action this week at the Eneco Tour where, fully recovered, he took victory at a canter in the bunch sprint at the end of Monday’s opening stage.
Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale)
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Results: Won three stages at the Tour de France, first in points classification. 34th in Olympics road race.
WorldTour ranking: 5th, 351 points.
Everybody’s favourite Slovak Fastvak successfully parlayed his blistering Tour of California and Tour de Suisse form into his debut Tour de France, where he justified his status as the favourite for the green jersey by winning three of the first six road stages, including the difficult uphill finishes of stages one and three.
A hat-trick of subsequent second places and some impressive climbing to secure intermediate points in the mountains were more than enough to deliver a commanding and richly deserved victory in the points competition.
Like Cavendish, Sagan was one of the big favourites for the Olympics road race, but never figured at the sharp end of the action and eventually finished 34th in the main bunch, not far behind Mark Cavendish and several other frustrated sprinters.
We’re proud to have access to former world silver and Commonwealth Games bronze medallist – and now Eurosport commentator – Tony Gibb, who is providing us with a daily insider’s view of life in and around the Olympic velodrome. Here’s his view of the last two days of track action.
Day 5: Setting up the finale
Trott was well-placed at the end of day 1 of the omnium (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Well, the women’s omnium is in full swing. Laura Trott won the flying lap – a great ride. I’m not entirely sure where she was for the points race. I think Team GB put someone up in her place. Maybe she was getting her hair done or something. All I know is she didn’t show up!
Clearly she returned from her appointment elsewhere to dominate the elimination race. Flirting with danger, hitting the front from the back, to end up fighting it out for the win with Sarah Hammer of the USA. She defeated Hammer comfortably, but if it could have been anyone else, anyone! Tomorrow brings the pursuit, scratch race and the horrific 500-metre time trial to finish.
In other unfinished business, the women’s individual sprint seemed to continue at a pace only mirrored by the entire Olympics with Vicky Pendleton and Anna Meares seemingly destined for a meeting in the final. If I had to pick, I’d say Guo and Vogel riding off for the bronze.
Oh my God, Kenny killed Bauge!
Over the years the French have been somewhat successful at track sprinting, with Daniel Morolon, Florian Rousseau and Arnaud Tournant to name but a few who have totally dominated their respective generations.
Great Britain have not! Yes, Jason Queally won the kilo at the Sydney Olympics, but Jason’s tactics in match sprinting and the keirin were equalled only by his discomfort at riding within a mile of anyone else. Craig MacLean had some success. I think he finished second in the Worlds one year [he did, in 2006, as well as six medals (including one gold) in the team sprint and an Olympic silver in the team sprint in Sydney – Ed], but it wasn’t until Sir Chris Hoy switched from the kilo that we had our first real sprint superstar, and my God what a star! He has cemented his place in the list of greats at these Games. He was already there but now he’s smashed his way in to the hall of fame and pulled up a chair at the top table. Now, move over Sir Chris Hoy – Jason Kenny has landed!
Kenny dominated Bauge to take sprint gold (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Having won the world sprint title in 2011 by default when Gregory Bauge was retrospectively banned for a whereabouts infringement, I have lost count of the number of times I have commentated on a Kenny v Bauge final. He’s no new kid on the block – a team sprint gold and individual sprint silver (behind the aforementioned Sprint God) from Beijing four years ago shows he is no newcomer. In fact the similarities between him and Phillip Hindes are clear for all to see.
The other storyline here was that of Njisane Phillip from Trinidad and Tobago, who got himself all the way to the bronze medal ride-off, having said all he wanted to do was come here and ride a good 200-metre time trial. Now this guy rides with some heart and a lot of balls! It wasn’t to be the fairy-tale ending of Rocky and Cool Runnings all rolled in to one, however. Shane Perkins of Australia restored the norm and took the bronze in two straight rides.
No such norm was restored in the gold medal ride. Kenny defeated Bauge in two straight rides. Let me correct myself: Kenny annihilated Bauge in two straight rides. He showed him what to expect in years to come, and the rider that I have previously referred to as the Usain Bolt of track sprinting lost his crown. Don’t expect any shows from Jason Kenny, don’t expect to see him on TV, in magazines, doing cereal, hair shampoo or bread adverts. This is a very down-to-earth, almost shy young man, whose feet are firmly planted on terra firma. All I can say is, this young man has much more to come, and he deserves every bit of the success he has already and that awaits him in the future.
It’s the last day tomorrow and I can’t bloody wait. Men’s keirin, the end of the women’s omnium and women’s sprint. Official odds of three Team GB golds: 7/2. Worth a punt, I think?
Hot to Trott as Laura puts down the Hammer
Don’t get me wrong, I am so incredibly grateful, honoured, chuffed and so many other emotions to have been able to work at the London 2012 Olympics. But I’m ready to move on. No details now, but in a few days when I’ve got home, done the massive bag of washing and got my head around the maddest week of my life I will write a blog of everything. For now though, the last night of the London 2012 Olympic track cycling …
First the women’s omnium. Laura Trott finished second to Sarah Hammer in the individual pursuit and also lost out to her in the scratch race, where Annette Edmondson of Australia took the win with Hammer second and Trott third.
It all came down to the 500-metre time trial. It was going to be tight. My money was always on Trott: smaller, younger and more explosive than Hammer. She took all of her time out of her in the opening lap, with Hammer always looking like she was fighting a losing battle to just hang on. The scenario was that Trott had to beat Hammer with at least one person between them. Trott won the event, Hammer was fourth. Gold for Team GB, and a second gold for the amazing 20-year old Trott.
Meares spoils Queen Vic’s retirement party
The women’s individual sprint was up next. And as I predicted, it was Guo versus Vogel for bronze, and Meares v Pendleton for gold.
I’m going to write a memo to Kristina Vogel. If you get beaten easily by leading out and getting mugged in the home straight, don’t do it a second time! Bronze for Guo, sprinting lessons for Vogel.
Pendleton finished her final Olympics with gold and silver (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
In the gold medal ride, Pendleton led out fast to negate Meares’ jump. It was a close run thing with Meares running at Vicky coming out of turn four, and then it happened. Did Meares elbow Pendleton? Did Pendleton come out of the red line and Meares was merely – did you like what I did there? – having to nudge into her to keep her line? Did she do this? Was this that? We can speculate until Rio 2016. The commissaries reckoned Pendleton came across the sprinter’s line and impeded Meares. Being impartial, I tend to agree. Yes, that’s right, I agree with the officials for once!
So, ride one to Meares. Ride two, well, let’s cut the bullshit, there’s not much to say. The warning signs were there. Steve Peters was the only person talking to Vicky in between the heats, which tells me one thing: fragile Pendleton was in the building and about to take centre stage!
Meares led out initially. Clearly not wanting to be there, she slowed it down coming out of turn four with two laps to go, down to a momentary track stand. Pendleton blinked first, taking the lead, with the Aussie allowing her a good 20 metres of running space. Vicky kicked on and hit the bell at speed, but going down the back straight Meares engaged the after-burners and breezed past Pendleton. This was less a showing of superior physical ability and more of an emotional and psychological meltdown of an athlete who it would appear couldn’t wait for the end to come soon enough. Two more efforts, 1,500 metres was just too much given the stress of 20 minutes previously.
So, silver for Pendleton as she rides off into retirement, while Meares completed her set of sprint medals – bronze in Athens, silver in Beijing, and now finally gold in London. I wonder if the Aussie will join her great rival in leaving the velodrome and continuing on into the sunset?
Britain’s greatest Olympian
[We think Tony’s iPad exploded with excitement at this point, so the next few paragraphs are courtesy of Tim – Ed.]
And so to the final event, the men’s keirin. Could Sir Chris Hoy supplant road colleague Bradley Wiggins as Britain’s most successful Olympian, tying him on seven medals but with six golds to Wiggo’s four? Was the result ever really in doubt?
Nothing was going to stop Hoy from claiming his sixth gold (image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Actually, yes it was. Hoy was well placed as the derny pulled off with 2½ laps to go, with Azizulhasni Awang offering up the promise of his usual feisty ride. But the Malaysian had no response as Hoy kicked – and kicked hard – at the start of the penultimate lap, hugging the inside of the track. However, the flying Scot couldn’t establish clear air, and as the riders hit the back straight for the final time, Germany’s Maximilian Levy pulled up to the outside of Hoy’s shoulder, and then nosed in front as they hit the last turn.
It was done. The script was written. Hoy was cooked, and destined to complete his final Olympic race with a silver, mirroring Pendleton. But Hoy didn’t become a multiple Olympic champion and a knight of the realm by meekly following the script. Summoning up one last supreme effort from those thunderous turbo-charged thighs, Hoy found an extra gear and, wrenching his bike around the turn inside the red line, bulled his way back past Levy on the inside. No photo finished required – a clear victory, and a record sixth gold. The big man even shed a few tears on the podium. I think a few of us watching may have done so too.
And that’s it from the velodrome for London 2012. Seven gold medals – matching GB’s total from Beijing – and one each of silver and bronze from ten races, with only Pendleton and Jess Varnish‘s disqualification from the team sprint preventing a clean sweep of medals in every event. Sir Chris Hoy becomes The Greatest Ever British Olympian™ [coming to a Channel Four programme near you soon – Ed], while Pendleton hands the baton over to Laura Trott as the new British cycling poster girl before sailing off in to the happy ever after.
British cycling, it’s a bloody good time to be part of it and it’s been a blast reporting on it for you, dear readers.