Vino (third from left) made all the right moves in London. Photo: Greenwich Photography.
The road portion of the Olympic cycling events have wrapped with the conclusion of both the men's and women's time trials. And though results were unsurprising, overall the racing in these 30th Games has been much more compelling than last month's Tour. A few notes:
1. A CLASSIC: Though all the pre-race ballyhoo was about the Brits and supposed shoo-in-winner Mark Cavendish, the men's road race proved a catastrophe for the home team—which was a boon for spectators. Try as they did, Bradley Wiggins' crew of five simply couldn't control this Paris-Roubaix-length epic, and a powerful breakaway made for an engaging finale. Credit to the designers who built a course that allowed for such excitement, as well as to the teams that knew they couldn't beat Cav in a sprint and took the race firmly by the bars (think: Switzerland, Spain, Italy, and the U.S.). In the end, the wily 38-year-old Alexandre Vinokourov made for a surprising and controversial winner, with some disgruntled fans and pundits fixating on his doping past. We say that's sour grapes. Not only did Vino serve his suspension fair and square, but his aggressive racing and two perfectly timed moves show exactly why he's been so successful over the years. We wish more racers had his do-or-die spirit. Bravo!
2. HAIL BRITAIN: Though the all-for-Cav approach to the road race proved their undoing (and probably should have been re-thought), the Brits still rode away with the show. That Tour de France winner Wiggins and runner-up Chris Froome would completely bury themselves trying to put Cavendish in gold when either could have bridged to the break and vied for the win showed their true mettle. That they followed up that noble routing with gold (Wiggins) and bronze (Froome) in today's time trial simply underlines the point that these guys are currently the best—and classiest—in the world.
3. THE AMERICANS: Having walked away with no metal for their efforts (at least the men), it would be easy to think that the Americans had a lackluster Olympics. Yet we were duly impressed. In the road race, the group of five played perfect team tactics, putting U.S. National Road Race Champ Timmy Duggan in the early break and then getting both Tejay Van Garderen and Taylor Phinney up to join him. Van Garderen showed his might with numerous attacks and long pulls on front in the closing kilometers, and Phinney came heartbreakingly close to the podium (fourth) in the bunch sprint. The oh-so-close anguish continued when Phinney scored fourth again in the time trial. But all of these guys (Chris Horner and Tyler Farrar included) should be proud of their strong showing. And with Van Garderen and Phinney both so young, it's almost sure they'll be back to fight another day.
4. BAD LUCK: Fabian Cancellara probably wants to go home and forget that this year ever happened. Early season, he looked to have returned to his domination of 2010 before crashing out of Paris-Roubaix with a badly broken clavicle. He reloaded and rebuilt with the explicit goal of defending his Olympic time trial title (and looked on track after winning the prologue at the Tour). In the road race, riding with three teammates in the lead break in the closing kilometers, he was an odds-on favorite for the win before a bizarre crash into the barriers felled his chances again. And though he fought through to ride the time trial today, it's clear from his seventh place finish that he was still suffering the effects of that crash. Better luck next time, Spartacus.
5. THE WOMEN: If you didn't tune in for the women's events, you missed some of the most exciting racing of the entire week. Dutch racer Marianne Vos put on a heck of a display in the road race when she instigated the decisive break with 45 kilometers remaining and then outsprinted her two companions, Britain's Lizzie Armitstead and Russia's Olga Zabelinskaya in a downpour. After finishing second in five consecutive world championships and narrowly missing a medal in Beijing, Vos' decisive win in pouring rain was dramatic vindication. Just as impressive was American Kristin Armstrong, who shook off a crash in the road race and shrugged off the pressure of being defending champ to score her second consecutive gold medal in the Olympic time trial. Maybe the thrilling racing will persuade U.C.I. president Pat McQuaid that women's racing deserves some parity.
NEXT UP: Track events start Thursday.