Category Archives: Olympic Games

Anything cycling related at the Olympics.

Olympic track wraps up as Britain dominate the medals table and "questions" arise

So back to Rio for a moment and a look at how the track finished up. Last time I wrote on Monday we had about a day and a half two go and four gold medals still up for grabs in the men and woman’s Kieren and Omnium. Both gripping events.

In the Omnium, Mark Cavendish finally got his Olympic medal, though he had to settle for silver behind Italian (and Team Sky rider on the road) Elia Viviani. Laura Trott took the woman’s Omnium gold with an absolute dominant performance in which he finished 1st in the individual pursuit, elimination race and flying lap, 2nd in the scratch race and time-trial, and 7th in the points race.

It was also Trott’s fourth Olympic gold. No other British female has won more than two Olympic gold medals. Added to her boyfriend Jason Kenny’s haul, after he won gold in a thrilling Keirin, the pair now have ten gold medals in their home between them. Just a few shy of that in the Michael Phelps household!

And speaking of the Keirin: The woman’s was won by Elis Ligtlee of the Netherlands but it was the men’s final that contained all the drama.

Twice the race was stopped when it appeared that the riders had jumped the Derny bike before it had left the track. It also appeared the Derny was slow to leave the track but it was insufficient proof that it had been jumped too soon that led to them restarting each time without a disqualification. It seems crazy that there wasn’t a camera on that line to say for sure, but when the videos that are available prove inconclusive, it’s hard to throw someone out of such a big event. And one of those was Kenny himself but, really, what rival wanted him out under those circumstances. How would the gold medal have felt with the knowledge that Kenny had been DQ’d for something so slight.

Rules are rules though and had it been completely evident he jumped the Derny, then he rightly would have been gone. He wasn’t and as it turns out he was indeed the fastest man because once the race was run in all its drama it was Kenny who timed the start of his sprint to perfection to close the gap to the front three and come around on the final bed to take a stunning win and his third gold medal of these games.

And so ended a thrilling Olympics in the velodrome and what a games for the British squad. The track medal table stood as follows:

Great Britain (6G, 4S, 1B) = 11
Netherlands (1G, 1S, 0B) = 2
Germany (1G, 0S, 1B) = 2
China (1G, 0S, 0B) = 1
Italy (1G, 0S, 0B) = 1
United States (0G, 2S, 0B) = 2
Australia (0G, 1S, 1B) = 2
Russia (0G, 1S, 1B) = 2
New Zealand (0G, 1S, 1B) = 1

A superb achievement but what is par for the course in the current era is that with success comes scrutiny, and worse, speculation and even allegation. It’s one thing when it comes from people on the likes of Twitter, but even fellow competitors were questioning how the British team had come from poor form in recent championships to dominating these games. The questions are fine and they’re there to be asked by the media, but when they come off as insinuations as much as questions, it doesn’t sit well. Especially not when it’s other competitors. It makes them look like sore losers.

And the questions have been answered before for those who care to listen. The problem is when those asking the questions don’t agree with the answers and pretend no answer was given. The British team have talked of many reasons they have done well in this discipline and why they have peaked for the games, without giving away every single secret that could be used by rivals.

The fact that so much money is put into the program allowing the athletes so much time to put towards their training and preparation is one thing. The fact that this money demands results are produced at the Olympics rather than anywhere else is another reason. Even the world championships are seen as preparation by this group to do well at the Olympics and it’s those results that ensure the funding will continue. Everything is built around peaking for this week every four years; the rest is just part of that process.

And a lot of water has run under the British track bridge too. This isn’t as though they have come from nowhere in 2016 to raid the podium. This is the third games in which the British track system has produced the goods. In that time a lot of riders and personnel have come and gone, medals have been won and lost, and yet there has not been a hint of a positive test, either in real-time or through retroactive testing, and there has been no former disgruntled rider or employee who has spoke out about anything questionable with regards to performance enhancing drug use.

Skepticism is well and good, but eventually — like, say, after three Olympics — it has to be followed up with a little proof.

That topic shouldn’t be where this thing is left however. Without that proof, I can do nothing else but tip my cap at their performance. Jason Kenny’s three golds to level Sir Chis Hoy, Laura Trott becoming the most decorated female British Olympian with four goals in total, and a wrath of other successes and world records. Where does the program go from here? There’s enough youth to think that it can continue and with this level of funding, talent scouting, facilities, coaching and know how, you get the feeling it won’t end here. The rest will have to find a way to step up.

Olympic cycling doesn’t end here. There’s BMX racing going on, and on the weekend there will be the woman and men’s mountain bike racing where Peter Sagan will look to make a remarkable transition from road to MTB in the space of a month and compete for a medal.

Cancellara wins Olympic time-trial; British take over on the track

Chris Froome couldn’t repeat what Bradley Wiggins done four years ago in London by following up a Tour de France victory with an Olympic gold in the individual time-trial. Froome had to settle for third behind Fabian Cancellara, who brings the curtain down on his glittering career in style, with Tom Dumoulin, the pre-race favourite, settling for silver. In the woman’s race there was a turn up for the books as American, Kristin Armstrong (no relation!), who has done little racing this year, showed up and beat the controversial Russian, Olga Zabelinskaya to silver, and Anna Van Der Breggen to bronze. The Dutchgirl picked up her second medal of these games on the road after her gold last week in the woman’s road race.

Fabian Cancellara will have been a popular winner here in Rio. He’s been on one big final season farewell Tour, or so it has seemed though things haven’t often gone as planned. His crown of classic king was taken by Peter Sagan when the Slovak beat him at the Tour of Flanders, he was well beaten by younger men like Dumoulin in many of the individual time-trials and perhaps he was beginning to think he’d left it a year too long to say goodbye. Or maybe not. Maybe deep down he knew he had this in him and it was everyone else who had written him off. Despite his pedigree for the race of truth, many didn’t feel Cancellara was up to winning a medal, never mind the gold. But he was a force throughout the cross, measuring his effort to perfection and finishing a mighty 47sec ahead of Dumoulin and 1min 2sec ahead of Froome across the rolling 54.6km course.

Armstrong’s win was closer on the 29.9km course, finishing just 6sec ahead of Zabelinskaya and 11sec ahead of Van Der Breggen. Canadian Tara Witten was 7th at 35sec.

With the road asepct of cycling at these games complete, we moved indoor for the track program. Six days of racing sure to thrill with high expectations on the British contingent. At the time of writing on Monday, August 15, we’re into the fifth day and thus far Great Britain are not letting themselves down. So far they have won gold in both the men’s and woman’s team pursuits, with world records to boot; gold in the men’s individual sprint via Jason Kenny; and gold in the men’s team sprint, including Kenny again. There have been silvers in both the Men’s and woman’s individual sprints for Callum Skinner (who also got a gold in that team sprint) and Becky James, with Katy Marchant of Team GB in bronze.

In on-going events, Mark Cavendish is well on his way to a medal in the men’s Omnium, and likewise Laura Trott is expected to medal in the woman’s Omnium. That will leave the Keiren and both Jason Kenny and Becky James will race respectively. Kenny with two goals to his name so far will look to add a third in these games and if he does he would level Chris Hoy for the most gold medals by a British athlete. At 28 years of age, Kenny would have two more Olympics in him before he even raced the age of Hoy at his last gold, so the potential is there, if the ambition continues to burn, to double his current haul.

Another highly decorated British athlete is, of course, Wiggins. He was one of just four in the team pursuit, but when it was required he made some mammoth pulls to either push the team to a new World record in the semi-finals, or to overhaul a flying Australian team in the final and push the record out further. Also in that team was Ed Clancy, who himself won his third goal (all in successive Olympics in this event), Steven Burke, with his second gold, and Owain Doull, with his first.

So far then, of the six medal events completed, the Great Britain team have won six of them with only Kristina Vogel of Germany (woman’s individual sprint) and China (woman’s team sprint) breaking their domination.

Thoughts then next time on how the track program finished up, as well as how things went in the mountain biking next weekend.

Rider of the week:

I know that we shouldn’t completely single out one rider from a pursuit team, but when it’s Bradley Wiggins who four years ago was winning the Tour de France and the time-trial won this year by Cancellara, and has since transformed himself back to a track rider and who put forth an epic pull in the later stages to ensure the GB team overcame the Australians to take what would be his fifth Olympic gold, as well as the World Record, I can’t not give it to him.

Two Olympic road races blighted by crashes but thrillers nonetheless in Rio

If the two road races in Rio were not a good advertisement for road cycling to the world, then I don’t know what is. Especially the men’s race which many are calling the race of the season; a race expected to be contested by the climbers but which was won by a man of the cobbles in Greg Van Avermaet. The woman’s race ended in dramatic fashion itself when American Mara Abbott was caught within metres of the line by a group of three from which Anna Van Der Breggen of the Netherlands took the gold medal.

It was a brutal course that incorporated its own sectors of cobbles but also some savage hills but because of what was at stake as well as the reduced team sizes and a ban on race radios, the action came thick and fast and it was hard for the climbing type to control it. UCI, World Tour, Tour de France etc., take note! They didn’t know when to react and when to let a move go and come the finish I was left wondering whether Peter Sagan might have regretted his decision to skip it?

But Sagan or not, perhaps nobody was beating Van Avermaet on a day like this. He could soak up the cobble sections, conserve on some of the earlier climbs and then get in moves that other climbers might not have been given the freedom for.

That said there was a little bit of luck too, but you make your own luck and you have to be in a position to capatilise when the opportunity arises. For a short time near the end it looked as though Vincenzo Nibali might win out in a race he had been targeting since the Giro, but on a tricky descent near the finish as he tried to split up his lead group, he crashed along with fellow escapee Sergio Henao, leaving Rafal Majka on his own to try and hold off a chasing pack. It looked like the perfect opportunity for Poland to seel a superb days racing that had seen Michal Kwiatkowski go up the road for the majority of the day, giving Majka the chance to rest while the rest led the chase. Majka couldn’t hang on however and was swept up on the road back into Rio by Van Avermaet and Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark leaving Van Avermaet as the strongest in a sprint along the Copa Cabana. Fuglsang settled for silver while Majka still took bronze.

The woman’s race had a similar finish, yet even more dramatic. The pair of Abbott and Annemiek Van Vleuten crested the final climb together and when Van Vleuten accelerated on that tricky descent, made more so by falling rain, it looked like the move to win. That was until a horrific crash seen her flip over her bars and onto a curb, knocking herself unconscious. She would be rushed to hospital with three small fractures to her spine, but would ultimately be ok. The upshot to the race itself was that Abbott was now on her own with a chasing group of three behind, so someone would miss a medal. For a while it looked like the American might hold them off, right into the final 500m in fact, when she finally blew and got swept up with 200m left. Chasing her down had been Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy, who must have realised she was the weakest of the three in the sprint and so by not pushing after Abbott would have missed a medal entirely. As it was her chase got her onto the podium for bronze as Van Der Breggen took the gold medal for the Netherlands ahead of Emma Johannsson of Sweden.

Missing from all this is, of course, Lizzie Armistead. She finished 5th, but her head was clearly not in the race. It’s been a turbulent few weeks for the reigning world champion when it emerged she had missed three random doping tests that would normally result in a ban, but had one of them struck off in an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) because the tester had not been able to reach her in her hotel room when the hotel refused to give the tester her room number. It seemed fair enough but the fact that she had even gotten to two missed tests was a worry.

Naturally it put her under a lot of heat, within the press, on social media and even amongst some of her fellow competitors. Armistead later released a letter explaining her position on the matter and it did seem to clear things up a little but there is no doubt going forward she will need to be far more cautious and certainly better with his administration. There is also no doubt that it had an affect on her mental state. She denied this after the race and said that once on the bike it wasn’t in her head, and while this is true there is no doubt the whole saga had an affect on her preparation…so much so that in itself it might have been the 20sec difference that she found herself away from a gold medal come the finish.

Next up will come the individual time-trials were certain riders like Chris Froome who must have fancied his chances in this race only to miss one of the decisive moves, will look to redeem himself and repeat what Bradley Wiggins achieved in 2012 when he added the Olympic time-trial to his Tour de France victory. Speaking of Wiggins, a little later in the week the track cycling begins and Wiggins will look to bookend his fabulous career with another gold in the velodrome.

Rider of the week:

Danny Van Poppel won two stages of the Vuelta a Burgos while Alberto Contador took the overall win, and Lachlan Morton won two stages and the overall classification of the Tour of Utah, but how can you not go for Greg Van Avermaet for completely upsetting the odds and spoiling a course supposed to be built for climbers by winning Olympic gold for Belgium?

The King of Britain

The peoples champion. Bradley Wiggins.

The pressure on Bradley Wiggins doubled on Saturday afternoon when the British team failed to deliver Mark Cavendish to Gold in the road-race, but you’d hardly have known it. As if it were scripted, as if just behind our camera’s a director was sitting on a chair shouting ‘lights, camera, action’, Brad Wiggins ride in Wednesday’s time-trial was never in doubt, and as he powered through Bushy Park, with the road lined either side, ten deep, by flag waving excitable British fans with the Olympic Games on their home turf and their finest cycling hero on his way to glory, it became the image of the games thus far. Wiggins crushed his opposition and with it took his forth Olympic gold, and seventh medal in total to make him the most decorated British Olympian ever.

It’s been one hell of a year for Wiggo. The year of expectation and for once, he’s a British athlete who has more than delivered. He won every build up race on the way to the Tour de France before becoming the first British man to win the biggest cycling race of them all. In a summer in which so much had been promised yet so little was being delivered what with the England team falling short at Euro 2012 and Andy Murray losing in the final at Wimbledon, here was a man, the everyday man like you and I, cleaning up in his sport.

Just six days after winning the Tour de France, when he might have been forgiven for carrying a little hangover, he was doing the lions share of riding at the front of the peloton, trying to control a race of 140 plus professionals with the hope of helping Cavendish win the road-race gold.

Four days after that, when he might have been forgiven for being exhausted and sick of the sight of a bike, he charged out of Bushy Park park, rounded several more corners and came home with a staggering time of 50:39.54 over a 44 kilometer course for a mind blowing average speed of 52.1 km/h and another Olympic Gold.

He then might have been forgiven for ducking into a team bus, getting changed and stepping outside only to collect his medal, but not this guy. Not the peoples champion. The first thing Wiggins did when he finished was to turn around and head back down the road into the crowd of fans who had cheered him on like never before. They swarmed him and he celebrated with them. The soldiers looking on who were there to provide security, could only applaud themselves with the odd one sneaking out his camera for a quick snap of the champion.

Never before had a cyclist been revered so much by an adoring public, certainly not in Britain and for someone who has watched the sport for over twenty years it looked all too surreal. But bloody fantastic at the same time.

Wiggins then retreated to the tranquil grounds of Hampton Court Palace were the race finished and took his place upon the throne in the gardens, a throne that only highlighted his command over the sport of road cycling in 2012.

“I cannot put into words how this feels,” he said afterwards, draped in a Union Jack and with his gold medal hanging around his neck. “To get the Olympic gold in your home country is incredible. Around the start, and especially going into Kingston, it was just phenomenal, the roar of the crowd and the noise was amazing, I don’t think my sports career will ever top that.

“In the past few days I have won the Tour de France and now I have an Olympic gold medal. When I was up there on the podium, in this setting, with the castle thing, it is just so British. I just thought ‘we are not going to get any better than this”.

And a word to his team-mate, Chris Froome, the man who was by his side all the way around France for the Tour, he came in third — a fantastic third given the competition of Tony Martin (2nd) and a (surely) injured Fabian Cancellara (7th) around him — giving Britain another bronze medal. A man who himself will one day win the Tour de France and even a Gold medal in a future Olympics, for now had to accept that he might be the least spoken about British medal winner of these games so far.

When the Winter Olympics were in Vancouver in 2010, the host nation had gotten off to a slow start, much like here in London with the British team. The medals were not coming as quickly as expected, at least not the ones of Gold colour, and people were beginning to get restless. Then a young 22-year old Moguls skier, Alexandre Bilodeau, bounced his way to first place and the nation erupted. The relief was there to see and like the champagne after the cork bursts free, the gold medals began to flow. Canada finished with 14 by the end of those games and topped the medal chart.

This today was Britain’s Alex Bilodeau moment. No it wasn’t the first for Britain of these games — that went to Helen Glover and Heather Stanning in the woman’s pairs rowing just a few hours before — but it was the one that you sense will truly lift the spirits of the fans and the momentum of the other competing athletes.

Brad Wiggins has really kick started these London games for the British and you can expect the gold medals to flow … the track cycling does start tomorrow after all.

“To do that in a home Games in London at the age of 32 – I know I am never going to top that, so I feel some melancholy too,” he said. “I will look back in 10 or 15 years and think ‘that is the highlight, that is as good as it gets’. It was just brilliant.”

All that stands in his way now is a Knighthood, but knowing Wiggins like we do, as that every day bloke on a bike and champion the people will adore, that sort of thing won’t phase him much as he alluded to when asked about it in his press-conference:

“Sir Wiggo – it doesn’t quite sound right, does it? It is what it is and as much as it is an honour to receive something like that, I don’t think I would ever use it and I would just put in a drawer – I will always just be Brad”.

A stamp unveiled by the Post Office to mark Bradley Wiggins’s success

Vino wins gold; Cav stood no chance in the end

That don’t look much like Mark Cavendish … Alexandr Vinokurov, he of the school of former dopers, wins Olympic Gold in final road race. Photograph: Bettini

One hundred and forty-four cyclists took to the start line in London on Saturday for the men’s Olympic road race  and five of them were British. Those five held the hope — and the best odds going for them — that the race would come down to a bunch sprint, the other 139, wanted anything but, for to gain any other kind of a finish would leave the result open to a number of contenders, but to take it to a sprint up the Mall, would all but ensure a British victory by way of pre-race favorite, Mark Cavendish. The 139, not surprisingly, beat the five and a surprise name in Alexandr Vinokurov took home the Gold.

The British tactic was simple, try and control the race as best they could, hope for a little help along the way by the team-mates of the likes of sprinters, André Greipel (Germany) and Matt Goss (Australia), and try leadout the man from the Isle of Man to within 200 meters of the line. Ironically however it was the rival sprinter nations of Cavendish that cost him his shot at Gold and it was nothing to do with them beating him in the sprint. None of them believed they could beat him in a flat out run to the line, none of them considered a Silver or Bronze medal as a worthy alternative, and instead sat back on the gamble that the race might come back together thanks to the British chasing leaving one of them to beat a potentially tired out Cavendish.

But to win a race you have to be in the race, and I don’t just mean taking to the start line. In terms of a sprinter, I mean in a race with a third of a kilometer to go. For Cavendish to get into the sprint with just four team-mates with which to chase down any break, he had to rely on the likes of Germany and Australia to help control the race, and as the race wore on it became painfully clear he wasn’t going to get it. The little bits of luck that sometimes have to go your way, weren’t on this day for Cavendish.

Attacks came early, and they came often. Anyone with any aspirations of winning Gold who knew they stood no chance in a sprint was trying to get into an attack and hoping that eventually a chance would fall short of bringing them back. Each time just when it looked like it might come together another group would go clear until which time a large group of over 30 riders formed at the head of the race that spelt real trouble for the British boys.

There were too many legs in that group, and they were left with the option of fighting to the end to try pull it together, or sitting up and risking it that someone else might chase. Their final option was to let someone like Wiggins go across into that group to win it himself, but given the nature of the finish — the top of box hill for the final time was a long way out from the Mall — it wouldn’t have suited him at all.

After the race they said that Cavendish could have went with the break but instead they trusted in themselves that they could bring them back, though I find that hard to believe. Had Cav tried to get across to that large group when it split off the front, I believe he’d have cracked ruining any chance. Wiggins, Chris Froome, David Millar, and Ian Stannard, had to ride with their best bet until the other side of Box Hill and then chase the front group down.

As the kilometers ticked away the gap didn’t come down enough and as one British rider after another slid off the back of the peloton, exhausted by their efforts, the dream of Cavendish and the British people, died.

Into the final kilometers and a big crash at the front of the lead group, which seen time-trial favorite Fabian Cancellara slam head first into the barriers on a tricky right hand turn, split the leading group, and from what was left at the front emerged Vinokurov and Rigoberto Uran Uran in a straight fight for Gold. Uran Uran had taken the lead out position, but blew his chance when he looked over his left hand shoulder to see where the chase was, or indeed Vinokurov himself, only to look back and find Vinokurov at the other side of the road, sprinting clear with all the momentum to take Gold for Kazakhstan.

I like to think that Vinokurov shouted to Uran Uran, “Oh no, we’re caught,” to get the young Colombian to look over his shoulder at which time he jumped for the line. Either way, it was one of the biggest wins of the 38-year olds life and one that puts him into retirement on a high.

Sadly for Vino however, he’ll still go into retirement remembered as the ex-doper who won the Olympics, and rightly so. I’ve always believed a cheat deserves a second chance by his sport, but I also believe they only deserve a second chance in the mind of the fans if they hold their hands up and admit their failures, much as David Millar did after his doping ban in 2004. Vinokurov never repented from his 2007 positive at the Tour de France that partly made up the most farcical Tour since 1998, and he has come back as through nothing has happened with no anti-doping stance whatsoever. His sudden dip in the production of results since his drug ban suggests he is now clean, if not just old, which is a good thing, unless of course that also raises a flag in your mind because he suddenly won his first race in two years in what could turn out to be his final race?

On the flip side for Vinokurov, there was little coverage of his prior history with doping thanks in part to the race being in Britain and it being the race that Cavendish didn’t win. All post-race analysis wasn’t on the blood passport of Vinokurov, but rather what went wrong for Team GB.

The debate has surfaced as to whether GB got their tactics all wrong, both in the lead up to the race by pronouncing they were fully behind Cavendish for the win, or during the race for sticking so resolutely to their plan. I’m surprised though for I don’t see what better option they had.

Looking like a stormtrooper, Mark Cavendish searches for the answers to his Olympic failure at the bottom of a bottle … of water. Photograph: Bettini

If you disregard the gift of hindsight, there was the suggestion from some that they shouldn’t have put all their eggs in the Cavendish basket so publicly in the lead up to the race, but by simply not talking him up as their pre-race favorite, wouldn’t have changed anything. The rest of the riders in this race are not naive. They knew all too well that the climbs up Box Hill were not significant enough to ward off a sprint finish if they did not attack hard. By Britain simply stating that they didn’t think Cavendish had a great shot wouldn’t have forced their rivals to take their eyes off of him. The Tour de France only finished a week ago remember and Cav won two of the last three stages, one of which with a not too dis-similar in profile to the Olympic course.

Changing tactics mid-race was never a likely option. At what time do you suggest the change? When the break is clear and you know you’re not catching them? That would be a little late. Should they have put a man in the break at the very start? Well the first break was caught so that wouldn’t have worked, and even had you put a man in every break, you would only have served to have weakened your team overall. Only in hindsight can you select the best break to have put a man into, but without such a luxury, Britain had no choice but to do what they did. Mark Cavendish was to them what a pair of aces is to the poker player. They put the odds in your favour and give you a strong chance of winning, one you have to go with and one you certainly don’t ask for a redraw on, but they still don’t guarantee anything. Cycling, like many sport, comes with the only guarantee that by the finish, most of the competitors will be disappointed with the result.

That no other nation left in the bunch felt that helping GB in a chase in order to gain a bunch sprint that at the very least would still have offered two men a Silver and a Bronze, if not a surprising shot at Gold, says more to their inept tactics, if not their general lack of effort, than that of Team GB. Cavendish, Wiggins, Froome, Miller and Stannard were five against 139 and in any walk of life, when the odds are like that, you stand no chance. With that however, they can go home from this knowing they tried. Only a couple of dozen others can say the same.