One of the very first blue ribbon events to be contested this Olympics is the men’s cycling road race, contested over 250km, including 9 laps of the Box Hill circuit.
One look at the profile map, and you can see that the climbs on the route are not something from one of the classic Tour De France high mountain stages in the Alps or the Pyrenees.
The race profile is very similar, in terms of climbs, to the Tour of Flanders or Gent-Wevelgem, 2 of cycling’s biggest one day events. What this means in terms of the race is that a small bunch sprint or breakaway group is likely to win the day. And that brings us to the Australian team and the contenders on a course like this.
With only a maximum of 5 riders, compared to the usual 8 or 9 in World Tour events such as the Tour or Paris-Roubaix, the Australian selectors had to be cruel to ensure the best chance of a medal outcome. Being a one day race also changes the team strategy and selection. The Australian selectors could have easily chosen 3 x 5 man teams, all capable of winning in both the road race and time trial.
The Australian team of Cadel Evans, Michael Rogers, Stuart O'Grady, Simon Gerrans and Matt Goss have all won events at the World Tour level. Only Michael Rogers, the Dodger, has not won a monument or world title road race, but has 3 world titles to his name in the individual time trial. The Brits may say that their team is the dream team, but with a line up of this calibre this is Australia’s greatest ever Olympic road racing team.
Strategy? The Dodger and Cadel will be the super domestiques/workers in this race. As there are no race radios in this event, the Freckle, Stuart O'Grady, will be the captain organising chase downs of breaks, or, more likely, trying to put Simon Gerrans in one. Gerrans has won some of his biggest victories by being in the right breakaway at the right moment in races of this profile, including this year’s Milan-San Remo, so he is the man the Australian team would be trying to put in the break that most teams are hoping to get away as no one wants the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, to get to Pall Mall with the bunch intact.
Box Hill should shed the weak but not everyone. Cycling legend Gary Fisher said this week on Twitter that it was a “big ring” climb, in other words something that could be done in a decent gear and not one that would see the riders “spinning” their way up the climb. The narrow roads will also add another selection to the race, but again it won’t get rid of everyone, just a few and maybe a winning breakaway.
If it doesn’t, that’s where Matt Goss comes in. Without a Tour stage victory means he is hungry for redemption and to repay the faith of Gerry Ryan, founder of the first Australian World Tour team Orica Green Edge, to have him as co-team leader in that line up. He has won against Mark Cavendish before and can do it again if the laps of Box Hill don’t lead to a winning break away, but just tire the legs of the sprinters. The Pall Mall sprint is a straight out drag race and without the lead out train he had working down the Champs Elysee a week before, Cavendish against Goss may be far closer tonight than it was then.
The others? Tom Boonen is the form rider of 1 day races in 2012, having won the big double of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders, not to mention Gent-Wevelgem and E3.
The profile suits him and he will be fresh after missing the Tour. His team mate, Philippe Gilbert, last year’s world no.1, would be the Belgium break away option. Peter Sagan from Slovakia is the form rider of right now, 3 Tour De France stages and the profile suits him perfectly. Andre Greipel, from Germany, could also be with a chance if it comes down to a sprint. Sylvain Chavanel from France and Fabian “Spartacus” Cancellara from Switzerland are dark horses the break away victory.
My choice? Gerrans to win in a select break away of 6-8 riders, but if it comes down to a bunch sprint it will be Cavendish from Goss and Greipel. One final note: the yellow road cycling uniforms will make their first and last appearance this Olympics, they look shocking.