Preview: Men’s Olympic Road Race

Talk all year has been about Mark Cavendish and the Olympic Road Race, as the fastest sprinter in the peloton, it’s hardly surprising he is many peoples favourite for the first gold medal on offer at the 2012 games. However he might not have it all his own way.

With 9 laps of Box Hill to complete, the sprinters in the race are going to be made to suffer, add in the narrow lanes on parts of the course and a crash could cause major splits in the field, with a maximum of 5 riders most teams simply don’t have the riders to chase back if anything goes wrong – or control the race for 250KM’s for that matter. The Aussies have already said they would like a hard race, and the likes of Belgium, with no true sprinter in the team, are likely to help make it very hard.

Previous games road races have never ended in a mass sprint (since professionals were allowed in). In 1992 Fabio Casartelli (ITA) took the honours in a 3 up sprint, Pascal Richard (SUI) was the winner 4 years later (1996) – again in a 3 up sprint, with British rider Max Sciandri taking the Bronze medal.

In 2000 Jan Ullrich (GER) broke clear with 2 of his Telekom trade team mates, Ullrich took the Gold, with Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) second and Andreas Klöden (GER) third.

In 2004, Paulo Bettini broke away from the field, towing Sérgio Paulinho (POR) to the finish before out sprinting him to give Italy the Gold. Axel Merckx (BEL) broke clear of the main peleton to take the Bronze with Erik Zabel (GER) leading the rest in a few seconds behind.

In 2008 a larger group broke away to contest the finish, with Samuel Sánchez (ESP) giving his break away companions the slip to take the gold, Fabian Cancellara (SUI) used his time trial ability to catch the rest of the breakaway and take the silver, with the Bronze medal going to Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS).

If it comes down to a mass sprint and he’s in the group you wouldn’t bet against Cavendish for the win, his nearest rivals are likely to be André Greipel (GER), Sacha Modolo (ITA) and Peter Sagan (SVK) – though without any team mates Sagan is at a disadvantage. And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see two Brits on the podium; anyone leading out Cavendish has no reason to sit up in a race like this.

For breakaways look to Philippe Gilbert (BEL), Rigoberto Urán (COL), Nicolas Roche (IRL), Luis León Sánchez (ESP), Alejandro Valverde (ESP) along with our two hot picks Michael Albasini (SUI) and Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) to ride aggressively though out – along with Cadel Evans (Australia) if he’s recovered from the illness he picked up at the Tour.

History shows the race to have never ended in a bunch sprint, which isn’t good news for Cavendish, then again until 7 days ago history told us a Brit had never won the Tour of France, nor had any rider won the final stage of the Tour four years in a row….looks like the Brits have developed a habit of rewriting the history books in 2012.

Prediction – Bunch finish

1 Mark Cavendish (Great Britain)
2 André Greipel (GER)
3 Sacha Modolo (ITA)