Simon Wicks, Thursday 26 July 2012
I’ve written quite a lot about the Olympic cycling for Time & Leisure in the last few months and now it’s upon us, with the road races taking place this weekend and the time trials next Wednesday.
After Bradley Wiggins’ incredible victory in the Tour de France, cycling is on a high in the UK and interest in the road events is going to be absolutely massive. Not only that, but the weather’s improved, too. Hurrah!
It seems the fates are smiling on us, but will the good fortune continue?
I’ve already asked some of our riders who they think might win the Olympic road races. But I’m going to stick my neck out, too, and offer my podium predictions for the races that will be passing through Kingston over the next week. Don’t blame me if I’m wrong!
Team GB’s Mark Cavendish is the pre-race favourite and the team will be aiming to deliver the superfast Manxman to victory on the Mall. Certainly he has excellent form and you can never write him off, but it’s a long race with nine laps of Box Hill before the finish.
Personally, I think this will be a race for strong all-rounders rather than out-and-out sprinters like Cavendish and I’m expecting a smallish group of powerful riders to reach the Mall together. So I’m putting my money on the amazing young Slovakian Peter Sagan, because I’m certain he’ll be there and he can outpace almost anyone at the finish.
I’ll also be looking out for the Swiss maestro Fabian Cancellara, the Belgian rouleur Tom Boonen and the young Norwegian Edvald Boassen-Hagen, who is supremely talented. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Italian climber Vincenzo Nibali is there at the finish either, but he doesn’t have the speed to win a sprint.
OR – if Team GB’s plan comes off and it’s a mass sprint at the end:
We currently have three of our best road racers ever in Nicole Cooke (gold medallist in Beijing), Emma Pooley and Lizzie Armitstead. But I just can’t see any of them winning. The astonishing Dutchwoman Marianne Vos is almost unbeatable on any terrain and in any cycling discipline. Since winning the world championship at just 19 in 2006, she’s completely dominated women’s road racing and the race is hers to lose.
If Vos does have a small weakness, it’s that she can be beaten in a sprint by the specialists. This is a race that’s likely to end with a sprint from a group of around 20 riders, so Armitstead will be in the mix. She’s a very classy rider, but I’m not convinced she has the explosive speed that will give her gold. Cooke has shown very little form this year and I suspect she may be dropped before the finish – though she’ll turn herself inside out to get there.
Vos aside, the major threats will come from the Italian, German and American teams. Look out for the Germans Ina-Yoko Teutenberg and Judith Arndt; the Italians Elisa Longo Borghini and Giorgia Bronzini and the American sprinter Shelley Olds. The canny Swedish rider Emma Johansson may have something to say about the final result, too.
A month ago, I would have said it’s a toss-up between the German Tony Martin and the Swiss multiple world time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara who’s like a motorbike when he’s in full flow. Then Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France time trials in such emphatic fashion that he’s now the favourite for gold.
Another British rider Chris Froome is also in with a shout. But, to be honest, I wouldn’t look beyond the three riders above – they’re so far ahead of everyone else, it’ll be a major surprise if they’re not the medal winners. But in what order??
GB’s Emma Pooley was a surprise silver medallist in the time trial in Beijing, but confirmed her talent by winning the world championship in 2010. On both occasions, though, the course was suited to her strengths as a climber. The Olympic TT is more flat and rolling than hilly, however, and though Pooley will have been training like mad and will give it absolutely everything she’s got, I can’t see her winning gold. A medal certainly, but not gold.
Emma herself rates the chances of the evergreen Kristin Armstrong from the United States, Clara Hughes from Canada and Linda Villumsen from New Zealand. Between them, these four riders are likely to make up the podium.
So those are my predictions. Of course, I’m not so confident that I’d be willing to back any of them with money – but I am certain we’re in for some cracking races.
Surbiton-based writer and journalist Simon Wicks is a cycling fanatic and can’t wait for the Olympics to come our way. He’ll be writing a series of weekly blogs about cycling, the Olympics and anything else that crosses his mind as we build up to the big events at the end of July.