Mark Cavendish underlined his status as the man to beat at next year’s Olympic Games by winning the road race test event through London’s streets on Sunday, but one competitor labeled the course “dangerous.”
The tight and technical route caused several bottlenecks for the competitors and support vehicles as the 139-man field set a blistering pace to leave British spectators, unfamiliar with watching live road cycling, open-mouthed in astonishment.
Britain’s Cavendish, the Tour de France’s most successful sprinter, won the 140.3km event starting and finishing near Buckingham Palace in a time of 3 hours, 18 minutes, 11 seconds.
He paid tribute to the vast crowds, who turned up despite widespread rioting in London earlier in the week.
“It was incredible, it shows how many people are into cycling in Great Britain at the moment,” the 26-year-old told reporters.
“The course was so full you couldn’t even take a wee,” he joked earlier on the podium, his model girlfriend watching on.
Sacha Modolo of Italy was second and Samuel Dumoulin of France was third, the latter happy with his performance, but not overjoyed about the circuit.
“At the end it’s fine, but at the start the route is not made for a race of this size,” Dumoulin said. “It’s pretty dangerous.”
Cavendish was not bothered about the route’s shortcomings and was typically unmoved despite attacks from Japanese riders toward the closing stages.
“It takes a brave person to try and push me off my leadout man. If I stay solid, they’ll bounce off me and that’s what they did,” the stocky Briton said.
Having withstood the attacks, there was only one outcome.
Cavendish stuck with the peloton, at one stage six minutes behind an early breakaway led by 2009 British road race champion Kristian House, before staging a customary late charge in a bunch sprint down The Mall.
Not in the mix at the end was sprinter Tyler Farrar of the US, who lost time after two grueling circuits of the Box Hill summit. He said that is where the Olympic race could be won or lost next year given the riders will have to complete nine laps.
“I think the circuit is harder than people are giving it credit for,” Farrar told a handful of reporters. “Nine laps of that circuit will be quite hard, especially for guys like me. It will be unpredictable.”
Meanwhile, amateur cyclist Aemon Atkinson found himself alongside the professionals after his leisurely ride was suddenly transformed.
Suitably dressed, but mounted on a bike that brought strange looks from some of the world’s best cyclists, Atkinson and a friend were not to be deterred on the London road race route.
“We thought we were going to get arrested being on the road while the race was in progress, but no one batted an eyelid,” Atkinson said as he walked his battered old steel-frame bike up some steps near the finish line.
“A few team cars went by and thought: ‘What the bloody hell’s going on here?’ but everyone was cheering us, which made us go on a bit more,” he said.
Atkinson and his younger companion had already done more than 70km to get to near Richmond Park, where they waited for the main peloton to go past before cycling at a safe distance behind.
They plodded along the route to Putney Bridge over the Thames, which to their surprise was still open, so they pressed on and were soon swamped by riders who had been dropped by the leading bunch.