Mark Cavendish now faces battle to find Olympic gold
Cavendish vows to do his best to make it an Olympic double after winning the world road race title
Mark Cavendish now has the rainbow jersey he has cherished for so long but finding the Olympic gold at the end of it will not be easy.
Cavendish delivered on his favourite’s status to win the world road race title in Copenhagen – and then vowed to do his best to make it an Olympic double, even hinting, if a little obliquely, that it might even take priority over defending his beloved Tour de France green jersey.
But he knows that cycling’s greatest names have failed to achieve such a feat and there will be few more marked men at next year’s Games.
After his recent victory in the truncated test event on the Olympic road race course, which is also thought to play into Cavendish’s hands, the expectation is now ramping up ahead of London 2012, when the road race will be one of the first golds to be decided.
But the route, with nine loops of the spiteful Box Hill in rural Surrey before a long and flat run-in to a central London finish, is a stiffer ask than Copenhagen – not that Cavendish, one of the few British cyclists to return from Beijing without a medal, won’t be trying, thriving when people write him off or pile on the pressure.
In addition, it took the combined energies of seven team-mates to brilliantly and efficiently boss the race in the Danish capital and deliver Cavendish to the finish line in contention.
Next year he will have a supporting cast of just four, and David Millar, a key lieutenant in Copenhagen, will be absent because his former drugs ban prevents his involvement in Team GB colours, a situation that, given his reforming zeal in assisting the cause of anti-doping, looks increasingly ridiculous, considering some the pasts and presents of others that will line up in London.
Geraint Thomas, another main man in Denmark, is also expected to focus his attention on the track, as Great Britain seek to defend their team pursuit title.
“It’s a big ask, we’ve got eight guys here and it will only be five for the Olympics,” said Cavendish
“The test event was much shorter, so don’t read anything into that. It’s impossible to compare winning that race to next year.
“It’s going to be really hard but we’d love to do the double and being Olympic and world champion would be pretty special. I will be working very hard for that.”
“As a British citizen, I want to win the Olympics but as a cyclist I can’t get much bigger than winning the rainbow jersey. When I was younger I wanted to be the world champion. There’s something about the bands. It’s a dream come true.
“I can’t win the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, so this signifies the biggest thing I can get. I can wear the jersey all next year and the bands on my sleeve for the rest of my life.”
Cavendish knew he may never get a better chance to win the road race rainbow jersey, which hasn’t been worn by a British cyclist since Tommy Simpson’s triumph in 1965, with the course seemingly ideally suited to the sprint specialist.
However, he needed all his team to maintain discipline in the race and deliver him to the finish line run-in, where no-one is faster, in the mix.
Australia’s Matt Goss, a team-mate of Cavendish at Colombia-HTC, finished just fractions behind to claim silver while Germany’s Andre Greipel pipped Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara in a photo finish for bronze.
Cavendish might be known for firing off the hip as quick as he peddles, his success fuelled by some knockout fighting talk, but even he was feeling sentimental on the podium, the eyes starting to visibly moisten as the national anthem struck up.
“It’s an incredible feeling, an amazing honour to wear this jersey because it’s such a long time since Tommy Simpson won,” said Cavendish, whose win eclipses his career 20 Grand Tour stage victories and green jersey in this year’s Tour de France.
“We knew three years ago when this course was announced that we had a chance and everybody has worked so hard for this moment, it’s the culmination of a lot of planning and hard work.
“The team have been working so hard to get the points we needed to have an eight-strong team here and I can’t thank those guys enough for what they’ve done for me, this is their win as much as it is mine.
“They controlled the race brilliantly and gave me all the support that I needed. I knew at the end that I had to do it for them.”
Cavendish’s rivals tried to do everything possible to disrupt a fascinating race and prevent a bunch sprint finish, in which they knew that the Manx Missile is all but unstoppable.
They all tried to fracture proceedings but Great Britain’s team worked hard to impose themselves almost from the start, preventing a decisive breakaway from ever building momentum with textbook tactics, proving that race radios, banned from the World Championships, aren’t needed to be well-drilled.
Bradley Wiggins, a silver medallist in the time-trial earlier this week, was relentless, paying back Cavendish for Beijing when his exertions in winning double gold in the individual and team pursuit cost them their combined bid for the Madison title.
Millar, Ian Stannard, Steve Cummings, Jeremy Hunt, Chris Froome and Thomas were also more than footnotes to the win, each man committing everything to the cause and deservedly sharing the victory.
An untimely crash prevented key rival and defending champion, Thor Husvovd, from involvement in the gripping denouement, which came after more than five hours of hard toil in the saddle.
Even at the end there was a fear that all the chasing would leave Britain too short-staffed to provide Cavendish with the slingshot lead-out he needs.
But Stannard stayed a loyal lieutenant, delivering his team leader to the front and then wearing a broad grin as Cavendish galloped up the 800m uphill stretch, safe in the knowledge there was only going to be one winner.
Cavendish always knew the pancake flat 266km circuit meant a bunch sprint for the world title, which hasn’t happened since 2002, was possible if not guaranteed.
He arrived on the back of two victories in the recent Tour of Britain and snapped back at those who claimed the race was too long, by pointing to his win in the much longer Milan-San Remo two years ago.
It concluded a memorable championships for British cycling, whose dominance on the track is now starting to be felt on the road.
Six medals, including two golds, mean they top the medal table and they also claimed podium spots in three of the four elite senior events, and finished a close fourth in the other.
No wonder performance director Dave Brailsford was wearing a broad grin as his jubilant team headed off into downtown Copenhagen to toast their success long into the night.
He must only hope now they have not peaked too soon, although when it comes to timing a run to perfection, he has got the right man in Cavendish.