After an Olympic ceremony that divided opinion as to whether it was just good or really good, the sport seemingly had a lot to live up to on the following Saturday. The headline event of the day was the men’s road race, which by all accounts had even more to live up to since Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France and the general public remembered that road cycling was actually happening.
Mark Cavendish had the honourable opportunity to give Great Britain their first gold medal of the games. Everyone expected him to, everyone wanted him to; everyone except the rest of the peloton.
The event overall was bitterly disappointing. This is not solely based on the severe lack of action in the race itself, nor the tedium of having to watch them trudge round Box Hill over and over and over again, until it was almost possible to know every tree. No, the prestigious race was almost entirely let down by the incredibly appalling broadcast by the Olympic Broadcasting Service.
Cycling is an incredibly hard sport to contextualise, whether you watch live on the side of the road or on television. However it becomes contextualised and incredibly exciting, when you can see the time gaps between the riders, as well as a distance counter. The broadcast had neither of these for most of the race.
Lacking these necessary informants, riders, commentators and spectators alike toiled in confusion as no-one really knew what was going on. BBC commentator Chris Boardman even began to time the splits himself, as he and co-commentator Hugh Porter became ever more frustrated by the lack of information coming from the broadcaster.
Riders were forever dropping back to their team cars or asking anyone around the track that might know, just what the gap was. With no radio systems allowed in the Olympic race, it became an isolated adventure for most of the riders.
Meanwhile, Team GB carried out their scheme to bring Cavendish victory just as they prepared. It’s not easy to prepare for the negative actions of fellow riders though, as anyone who might be expected to chase the break from the peloton saw nullifying the British cyclists as more of a success than winning a medal. Very sporting.
This all left GB in a precarious position. With a reduced team of five in the Olympic race, controlling the race was an improbable task. They plodded on nonetheless, stretching over five minutes (according to the commentators manual timing) behind the breakaway at times but while on Box Hill, never looking out of the race. Then again they never looked in it either, as the pace of the peloton increased and brought the gap down to around a minute, the remaining distance to catch the leaders was quickly disappearing, and everyone looked spent.
It was around 25km (very roughly), that the OBS decided it might be a good idea to break out the white board and tell the riders the information they needed. It also became clear at this point that everyone had lost faith in both the GB cyclists and the information provided by the OBS, as amusingly, any times they gave were preceded by the sentences; ‘if those times are correct…’ or ‘if we’re willing to believe…’ Which were quickly followed up by ‘I think Sky, sorry, Team GB have had it’.
And so it was that Mark Cavendish’s Olympic dream came to a dreary and uneventful end, unlike Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, whose race which came to an abrupt end immediately after I put all my faith in him winning it, as he poleaxed himself on one of the barriers.
The race itself is a memory that will soon be unhealthily repressed (before later inducing a mid-life crisis) by Cav and Team GB, but the team cohesion and effort from the Britons was unparalleled by any other team in the race, and their work in the face of negative tactics was admirable.
It’ll be no consolation for Cav though, who will continue to live with the pain of coming away from two Olympic Games with no medal. Bradley Wiggins meanwhile, looks to the time trial next week for another gold medal and to guarantee that New Year knighthood; though he’s probably got it anyway.
In conclusion then…umm…umm…what can we conclude? Well the OBS need to get better at broadcasting road cycling, Mark Cavendish will be a bit upset and the bloke who won once got done for doping. So truly, a brilliant day all round.