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Monday, 27 August 2012

Britain race to cycling supremacy

Since the last post many many things have happened in the cycling world with cycling’s new golden boy, Wiggins, taking the lion’s share of the spoils for himself.

The world’s greatest race sped around France with its usual dramatic presence. Stunning vistas were on display on the box, and I assume for those attending the race as well, although the race was a little less stunning from a general classification (GC) point of view as Team Sky controlled the general classification competition from start to finish making the charge to Paris almost a closed race. The Sky machine rumbled through apparently monotonous countryside to put Bradley Wiggins on top of the podium in front of the Arc de Triomphe leaving the more traditional romantics more interested in the scenery than the race. Wiggin’s victory was nothing short of governing as he imposed Britain on this illustrious race’s history. It was also nothing more than a bit dull. His ability to time trial is fascinating and there is no doubt he was the rightful winner but his ability to climb is far more mysterious and uncertain. He was hidden behind several Team Sky Rider masks in the mountains, particularly the ever faithful Chris Froome, who shepherded him over pretty much any inch of road with a positive gradient. This made some people begin to ask questions: Is Froome holding back? Could Froome beat Wiggins? Could Wiggins finish the race before Christmas if Sky decided to go away? All of these are still unanswered as Froome and Sky remained in front of Wiggins and his face hair throughout every climb; with ‘Froomedog’ chasing down anything threatening on the road ahead. The performance of Sky was brilliant and seemingly invulnerable but I think most cycling fans will be hoping Mr Froome will divorce Mr Wiggins and Sky next year and commit himself to a relationship where there is both give and take as he certainly has potential to win grand tours. A change like this would also make the race a bit more exciting as Froome would have opportunities to hurt Wiggins in the hills and with the re-introduction of this era’s greatest cyclist (Alberto Contador) the whole month of July will be back to its usual awe-inspiring spectacle and the beauty of France should also still be there to see. 

Now, there was a small, little known sports competition this summer. It’s called the Olympics and it happens every now and then, this year many people lined up for this extended sports day in London, and at the very beginning of this event there was a cycling race which Mark Cavendish really wanted to win. Now Cavendish is a curious, hilarious and enlightening character and I was heartbroken to see that, through no fault of his own, he had not won the race. I was almost as frustrated by some of the media coverage that called ‘Cav’ and Team GB a ‘flop’ and claimed that an ‘unknown’ was the gold medal winner. (There is about to be a little rant).

 Team GB had five of the most talented riders in the world assembled for this race, all of them there to win gold for the Manx Missile, but their talent was no match for a huge group of also very good cyclists pulling ahead. Trying to chase that group without the help of some other nations, most notably Germany and Australia, was impossible.  Although the defiant Britons did have a very good go at it and came very close to success. This left Cavendish nowhere near the bunch sprint finish, the discipline at which he is the greatest ever rider to compete, so he could not contend. Britain were very much a victim of their own outstanding performances in this race and five riders really cannot fight the whole peloton.

The other injustice that I spotted was the non-cycling world’s attack on the day’s victor: Alexander Vinokourov. He was previously convicted of using performance enhancing drugs and has since served his ban and returned to the sport. He is, put simply, extremely good at riding a bike and has never been an anonymous figure in cycling’s elite. Yet his reception as winner of the Olympic road race was one of bitter acceptance, a reception that our own talented but previously convicted David Millar would have not endured had he won. 

The Olympics then moved on and a few days later Chris Boardman reappeared to tell us about a different race that was going to happen and Britain had entered our only ever two Tour de France podium riders (Wiggins and Froome). These skinny chaps were up against (reigning champion and all round cycling genius) Cancellara from Switzerland and Martin (reigning world champion) from Germany and some other men on bikes. However, it was really a four horse race and this time Bradley Wiggins was in complete control underlining his skill against the clock and Froome also made a strong account for himself taking bronze.

Britain has taken road racing hostage this summer and seems to be locking its prisoner in a vault for now. Their dominance is impressive if not a tad mind numbing but all respect is due to them they have done what they need to do to win very important races and I hope there is more to come. Although I am praying they find a more interesting way to go about their success.