So I will be waking up at 5 am on Saturday to watch the Olympics cycling road race around London and it will likely be the only Olympics I watch with much interest this year (unless my foot turns bad again and I'm stuck inside a lot this August). It's definitely the most exciting event this year and although it will be near impossible to match the drama of 2008's amazing race in Beijing -- when Fabian Cancellara single-handedly bridged a 30-second gap to a 3-man lead group, dragging eventual winner Sammy Sanchez to victory (and himself to bronze) -- it should be way more exciting than the last three weeks around France, and that's pretty much why cycling is the best sport outside of Syracuse playing basketball -- there are so many different great events to get excited for. Anyway, the heavy heavy heavy favorite is defending world champion Mark Cavendish, a Brit on a home course designed with him in mind. If you thought fellow Brit Bradley Wiggins was a heavy favorite going into the Tour de France, that's nothing compared to Cav in these Olympics. And if there were any doubts about his fitness after he did little in the Tour's first 2 weeks, those were crushed when he crushed the field to win sprints on Stages 18 and 20 last weekend. And a fit Cavendish has not been beaten much, or really at all, in the past 4 years of cycling sprints. So if there is a bunch sprint at the end of this race, expect Cav to win it. If Andre Greipel or Matty Goss or Peter Sagan manages to beat him at the line, that would be an upset on order of USA Basketball losing to Angola, even though they are the next 3 best sprinters in the race (the Spain, Argentina, and Croatia? of basketball). But that's the rub in this race -- there is definitely a chance that it will not end in a bunch sprint and every other country besides Great Britain will be doing their best to avoid it.
The race does feature hills. Not mountains, of course -- we're in London -- but hills, and Cavendish does not go uphill well at all. The race starts out with 72 km from London through local circuits, then a 15-km Box Hill loop that they circumnavigate 9 times before a 40 km run-in back to London to the finish. That's a solid 247 km (or 112 miles) of racing for those playing at home. The Box Hill loop does feature the Box Hill which, according to what I've read, is tough enough that it could drop Cav and that's where teams will try to hammer the pace and leave him behind, assuming their own sprinter can stay with it. That's the rub I guess, in that Germany will not try to drop Cav here because Greipel is just as bad uphill as him, and the best sprinter who can climb right now -- Peter Sagan -- is not exactly on the strongest team (Slovakia). Actually Sagan is the only one on the team (the rules for entrance are complicated but both riders and countries qualify and each country can have 1 to 5 riders racing). Anyway, Australia is the best hope for those rooting for a non-Cavendish coronation, as their sprinter Matty Goss can usually handle a slope better than Cav or Greipel and they have a veteran squad who can push the pace -- Cadel Evans, Simon Gerrans, Stuey O'Grady, and Cav's Sky teammate Mick Rogers. The other teams likely to attack early and often are Belgium -- with Tom Boonen much more suitable to the upslope than a pure sprinter but a good enough sprinter to win in a smaller field -- and Spain -- where JJ Rojas is perfectly suited to this type of course and a smaller sprint, particularly with Alejandro Valverde and LuLu Sanchez pushing the pace for him. So there are options. If Cav has not been dropped on the hills, then the 40 km run-in will feature breakaway attempts galore -- look for Sanchez and Belgium's Philip Gilbert and France's Sylvain Chavanel to try multiple times -- but Cavendish has the edge of having as teammates 1st and 2nd place in the just-completed Tour de France in Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, along with David Millar and Ian Stannard, all former track cycling stars who can do a pursuit and drag any breakaways back to the field. But you never know on a 1-day race, which is what makes the spring classics (and the Olympics) so exciting.
Oh, and for my American readers, we really don't have a chance to medal. Tyler Farrar is our best sprinter and the team will be racing for him but he's done nothing this year (as opposed to last year when he was arguably 2nd best in the world to Cavendish) and has no more climbing ability than Cav or Greipel or Goss, so he won't be there at the finish if they are dropped too. Their only hope is sneaking into a breakaway that holds but Americans are not known for their breakaway prowess. Look for young Taylor Phinney to give a go at a medal on Wednesday's time trial instead.
Vague Space Predictions:
4. Lulu Sanchez
6. Fabian Cancellara, Switzerland
7. Edvald Boassan Hagen, Norway