Tour de France sprint king Mark Cavendish believes a “dream” British cycling team can notch what could be the hosts’ first gold medal of the Games at the Olympic men’s road race today.
Only six days after Cavendish played a role in Bradley Wiggins’ historic yellow jersey triumph, the 23-time Tour de France stage winner starts as the favorite for the 250km men’s road race on the opening day of competition.
A host of challengers, such as Germany’s Andre Greipel and Slovakia’s Peter Sagan stand in his way, but Cavendish believes Britain’s five-man team have the edge.
“It’s the dream team,” the 27-year-old from the Isle of Man said. “If we wanted to win this bike race, we couldn’t be in a better situation team-wise.”
Britain will line up with a five-man team notably including Wiggins and Scotland’s David Millar, armed with a plan to deliver Cavendish to the home straight in the perfect position for a bunch sprint.
If the plan comes together, the Manx Missile will be hard to beat.
Crowned the world champion last year when he beat Australian Matt Goss to the rainbow jersey in Copenhagen, Cavendish put some doubts over his form early in the Tour de France to bed with two, stunning late wins in the race.
Wiggins affirmed that any concerns Cavendish may ultimately pay for completing both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France in the last two months are well wide of the mark.
“We’ve got the fastest man in the world and I guess it’s for other people to combat that,” Wiggins said.
When it comes to tactics, the road race will be hard to predict.
It starts and finishes on the flat of The Mall within sight of Buckingham Palace, but with a circuit which features the climb of Box Hill and which will be raced nine times, Britain will have to be tactically astute.
Australia said they would not just be looking to put Goss in a bunch sprint.
“Most of the traditional cycling nations don’t want a sprint because they’ve got very limited chances of a medal, I expect the race to be aggressive early — otherwise it just plays into the hands of the Poms [British],” Australia boss Matt White said. “We’ve got a team that can afford to be aggressive. If it doesn’t work out, then we’ve always got Gossy for the sprint, we can work both ways.”
Like Britain with Wiggins, Australia’s team of Goss, Simon Gerrans, Stuart O’Grady, Cadel Evans and Michael Rogers has been labeled the “best” ever by O’Grady, who is competing in his sixth Olympics.
“This is the best team Australia has ever had going into an Olympic road race,” O’Grady said.
Milan-SanRemo champion Gerrans, meanwhile, believes one of their potential advantages is the pressure factor on the hosts.
“Yeah, definitely, and the fact they are going in with the current world champion [Cavendish] and Tour de France champion [Wiggins] as well, that’s obviously attracting a lot of attention,” Gerrans said. “In the past they have seemed to handle the pressure fairly well, but I don’t think they have ever had pressure like this before.”
As well as Cavendish and Goss, there’s Sagan, Greipel, and Belgian pair Tom Boonen and Philippe Gilbert.
Sagan stands out because he will not to have the full five-man team at his disposal and while he has been given a positive appraisal from world cycling chief Pat McQuaid, the Irishman said a Cavendish win would not go amiss.