Australia cycling coach Matt White said his team planned to take an aggressive approach as they sought to shatter Britain’s hopes of early Olympic glory in the men’s road race on Saturday. The 250 km men’s race starts and finishes in The Mall but takes in a circuit, which includes Box Hill in Surrey, that will be raced nine times.
Fresh from an historic Tour de France victory, Bradley Wiggins is expected to don the cloak of team ‘domestique’ (helper) to make sure the race ends in a bunch sprint for their resident fast man Mark Cavendish. Although Australia possess their own sprinter in Matt Goss, who was second behind Cavendish at the world titles in 2011, White believes the versatility in his five-man team offers them several tactical options.
“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),” said White. “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.”
With a pancake flat finish, a bunch sprint will be the favored scenario of several teams, including Britain, Germany and Slovakia. The rest, however, could be looking to throw a few spanners in the works to prevent the bunch all coming back together for the finish.
Australia’s team of Goss, Simon Gerrans, Stuart O’Grady, Cadel Evans and Michael Rogers has been labelled 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. There is an incredible amount of experience in this team and I think it’s going to be a major factor in the race on Saturday,” said O’Grady.
While Evans is known for his exploits as a former Tour de France champion (2011) and a two-time runner-up, he was also Australia’s first world road race champion, in 2009. Evans had a torrid Tour de France campaign this year, but he says that is no reflection of how he expects to race on Saturday.
“I don’t know if outwardly I look relaxed about my disappointment, but in years gone by it’s been the setbacks that have brought me back stronger and more motivated,” said Evans.
Gerrans, meanwhile, believes they could benefit from the pressure factor.
“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,” said Gerrans, who underlined his credentials earlier this year when he beat Swiss Fabian Cancellara in a two-up sprint for the prestigious Milan-SanRemo title. “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.”