VeloEye view of the men’s Olympic road race

VeloVoices’ good friend, photographer Roz Jones, was among the crowd’s at yesterday’s Olympic men’s road race and was on hand to capture the drama leading up to Alexandre Vinokourov‘s triumph on the Mall. With her kind permission, we have reproduced here are a few of her shots from the day as she took up residence close to the 15km to go mark.

Gilbert can’t catch a break

It said much about the form of Philippe Gilbert – officially the top-ranked rider of 2011 – that (a) he felt it necessary to get into a risky break a long way out and (b) no one really believed it was going to work. Ultimately it was an instrumental move in scuppering Mark Cavendish‘s chances of victory, but that will have been of little consolation to Gilbert, who eventually finished 19th in the remnants of the break, eight seconds behind the leading two.

Philippe Gilbert (left) leads the break (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

Vino’s retirement gift to himself

Instead it was left to Vinokourov – a silver medallist in the road race in Sydney in 2000 – to launch the decisive attack along with Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran. A much-loved racer with a controversial past – he served a ban after being found guilty of blood doping at the 2007 Tour de France and has never repented – he announced he would retire after next week’s individual time trial.

Gold medallist Alexandre Vinokourov (centre) in the breakaway before launching the race-winning attack (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

Cancellara crashes out of contention

Also in the break and a strong candidate for victory was Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara. One of the best bike handlers in the peloton, it was a shock to see him crash into the barriers on a corner about 16km from home. Although he did eventually climb back on to his bike to finish the race, his hopes of victory were long gone. He had sustained a bad shoulder bruise with internal bleeding which left him in obvious discomfort, as the post-crash image below clearly illustrates.

Cancellara alone and in pain after his crash (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

His status for Wednesday’s time trial – a discipline in which he is the defending Olympic champion – remains uncertain. Even if he does start, it will certainly boost the chances of the British duo of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, the historic winner and runner-up of this year’s Tour de France.

Britain stands alone (almost)

With almost everyone else leaving the British team to do the chasing on behalf of Cavendish, the peloton struggled to peg back the break’s lead much below one minute until it was too late. Even with the massive power of Wiggins, Froome, David Millar and Ian Stannard available, it was a bridge too far for a team which had had to sit on the front for virtually the entire day. Germany lent former world time trial champion Bert Grabsch to the chase, but the negative tactics of others meant the chase was an unequal one, leaving Cavendish and the other sprinters to compete for a lowly 27th position, 40 seconds behind Vinokourov.

The peloton chases, with Germany’s Grabsch leading the British team – but too little, too late (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

Cadel has nowhere to go

Another sprinter who will have been disappointed that the race did not end in a bunch gallop is Cavendish’s former teammate Matt Goss. Despite boasting 2011 Tour de France winner Cadel Evans in their squad, Australia steadfastly refused to do any work whatsoever in the chase.

Cavendish was critical of them afterwards, but once they had managed to sneak the veteran Stuart O’Grady into the break late on, they had no real reason to chase. It left Evans as a fairly anonymous figure hidden in the middle of the pack, unable to put his prodigious engine to use to help support Goss. O’Grady finished out of the medals in sixth.

Former Tour de France champion Cadel Evans cut an anonymous figure (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

In the end, an expectant partisan home crowd were left feeling disappointed, but that didn’t stop the race from producing both dramatic stories and dramatic images. Thanks to Roz for sharing hers with us!

You can follow Roz Jones on Twitter and find more of her photographic work at Roz Jones Photography. She also operates On The Road Cycling Tours for anyone interested in viewing the sport up close and personal – you can find out more on the website here.

Men’s Olympic road race review

Olympic Podium l to r Uran, Vinokourov, Kristoff (image courtesy of Mikkel Conde)

Olympic Podium l to r Uran, Vinokourov, Kristoff (image courtesy of Mikkel Conde)

Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) was the surprise winner of the men’s Olympic road race, cruelly dashing Mark Cavendish’s dreams of a gold medal. Vinokourov, leader of a two-man team, didn’t figure in anyone’s reckoning, despite showing flashes of his former brilliant and aggressive self during the recent Tour de France. Yet it was Vino who had jumped away from a large leading group in the final kilometres along with Columbia’s Rigoberto Uran, another unfancied rider. Vino seized his moment with 200 metres remaining, as the pair raced down The Mall unchallenged. With Uran appearing to be momentarily distracted, Vino launched his successful sprint for the line and the gold medal.

Norwegian Alexander Kristoff was best of the rest in the sprint for third and the bronze medal.

It was a disappointing day for GB’s Dream Team – Bradley Wiggins, Ian Stannard, David Millar and Chris Froome – who worked tirelessly, but ultimately fruitlessly, for the world champion. With its much smaller teams of five or less, the Olympic road race is much more problematic to control than the World Championships or the Grand Tours, where the teams comprise up to nine riders. Indeed, prior to the race, UCI President Pat McQuaid had mused that “…..if it splits or a breakaway gets away it could be anyone’s.”

How the race unfolded

An initial break of 12 riders went away after just 20km and its efforts were marshalled by veteran Aussie Stuart O’Grady, taking part in his sixth Olympic Games. The break had established a lead of around six minutes as the peloton raced through Surrey and began the first of nine, 15.5km circuits, which included the 2.6km Box Hill climb (average 5%).

Team GB rode confidently at the front of the peloton trying to control both the break and protect Cavendish. Initially, only the German team, who also did not have a man in the break, lent a hand by committing world time-trial champion Tony Martin to the chase.

Gilbert’s efforts in the break came to nought (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

The first decisive move took place on the circuit’s third lap, when Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali (third in this year’s Tour de France) attacked only to be joined by none other than Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert (pictured above*). This dangerous duo prompted a reaction from the peloton, which began to cut down the time gap. But on subsequent circuits other riders, such as France’s Sylvain Chavanel and Ukraine’s Andrei Grivko, joined the chasing pair, making it a dangerous group of 11 riders.

The work rate went up considerably on each of the subsequent six laps and the gap plummeted as Team GB team time trialled at the head of the bunch. By this time they’d been joined by a familiar figure, albeit in Austrian colours, as Bernie Eisel took up his usual role as Cav’s wingman, an occurrence that caused great consternation among the Twitterati. It was a war of attrition for everyone else with riders being shelled out the back like proverbial peas. But did Team GB have enough left to stay in contention on the final 48km run back to London?

The two breakaway groups finally came together on the last circuit, forming a large breakaway full of dangerous riders such as Spain’s Alejandro Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez  and enjoying a gap back to Team GB of just under a minute. While it was the Belgian team who had initiated the junction, it was the teams from Spain, Switzerland and Russia who forced the pace and increased the gap back to the main peloton. Team GB received only limited assistance from Germany in the chase. There was to be no allegiances, no one wanted to deliver Cavendish to the line, even if it meant snuffing out their own sprint aspirations.

The final throw of the dice

Cancellara alone and in pain after his crash (image courtesy of Roz Jones)

With 30km left, Froome was spent and the gap was not closing. The second decisive move came when Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara (pictured above*), who’d unbelievably been allowed to escape in the break, misjudged the corner at 15km to go in Richmond Park and went down hard, injuring his right arm and jeopardising his chance to ride the time trial on Wednesday. The subsequent carnage slowed the chasing peloton and ended any hopes of catching the leading group who, with 10km left, realised the medals were theirs for the taking. Vino and Uran were the first to take their chance – the third decisive move ­– escaping off the front and building a small lead, with no organised chase behind them. He who dares wins! What a wonderful way to finish a long and eventful career. Afterwards, Vino said:

I said I must attack because if I arrive in the sprint, I won’t have a chance. I had a good jump with Uran, we rode hard together. This is an incredible victory to finish my career.

Disappointed but….

Cavendish, who came in 40 seconds back, paid tribute to the efforts of his teammates.

They were incredible. I couldn’t be more proud of them. They are absolutely spent. They rode 250km going 60km/h for the last hour. We can’t make excuses. We did everything as we said we’d do and more. To see the guys and the calibre they have to be riding like that. We knew it was going to be like that coming into it. We said we’d just do our race as we wanted to do it and just see what happens.

It seems like most teams are happy not to win as long as we don’t. That’s the story of our life now in cycling. It shows what a strong nation we are and we’ve got to take the positives from that and take it as a compliment. But it’s bitterly disappointing.

Positive note

The result might not have been what British fans were anticipating but support the length of the course was unprecedented as hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the course, proof that cycling is on cloud nine in Britain after this year’s historic Tour success.


A British rider might not have won but the event was most definitely a rip-roaring, gripping edge-of-the-seat success. Just cast your eyes at the results and the names of the riders who finished in the top ten and for whom they rode. This wasn’t what was expected. The race didn’t go as planned and it’s all the better for it. Maybe smaller teams and no race radios is just what races need.


1. Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) +5:45:57

2. Rigoberto Uran (Colombia) same time

3. Alexander Kristoff (Norway) +0:08

4. Taylor Phinney (USA) a/t

5. Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan) s/t

6. Stuart O’Grady (Australia) s/t

7. Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium) s/t

8. Gregory Rast (Switzerland) s/t

9. Luca Paolini (Italy) s/t

10. Jack Bauer (New Zealand) s/t

Men’s Olympic road race preview

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

The Route

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.

The Competitors

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.

Will Peter Sagan be waving from the top step of the podium on Saturday? (image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

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.

Will Spartacus blaze a trail through the Surrey countryside? (Image courtesy of Danielle Haex)

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.