Nearly half a century after Tom Simpson took Great Britain’s only previous gold medal in the World Championships Men’s Road Race, Mark Cavendish repeated the feat with a stunning sprint win in Denmark.
Great Britain had done much of the work to keep the bunch together during the 266 kilometre race, and Cavendish finished it off in fine style, outpacing Australia’s Matt Goss by a wheel length, with Germany’s André Greipel claiming bronze.
Hugging the right hand side barriers on the long drag to the finish, Cavendish’s victory came thanks to a perfectly calculated final acceleration around 150 metres from the line.
Only Matt Goss could follow Cavendish as the Briton edged slightly clear of the main pack, and the Australian was closing the gap as the two flashed across the line.
But Cavendish had timed his final burst of speed perfectly and has now added the rainbow jersey of the Men’s Road-Race to his multiple Track World Championships titles.
“There couldn’t be another result after the way the guys [GB team-mates] rode,” Cavendish, already the winner of the Tour de France’s points jersey this summer, said later.
“They were the best in the world.”
“They were incredible, they took the race on from start to finish, they worked so hard and I’m so proud.”
“We had a plan from three years ago, as soon as the route was announced, and we put that plan together. And now we’re taking the rainbow jersey back to Great Britain.”
Holding the race together for the eight-man British team was no easy task, with six riders taking off early on and another five joining them mid-race to form what was arguably the most dangerous threat to the sprinters’ collective chances.
Defending World Champion Thor Hushovd (Norway) was caught behind in a big crash, but Great Britain, aided by the Germans and the United States, kept control in the pack.
And almost no sooner had that 11-rider break crumbled than another strong, three-man attack group featuring France’s Thomas Voeckler, local star Nicki Sorensen (Denmark) and Belgian Klaas Lodewyck.
As the trio stayed stubbornly some 30 seconds ahead of the pack, Britain’s David Millar and Bradley Wiggins upped the pace behind, although when Johnny Hoogerland (Holland) bridged across, it seemed as if the British were finally running out of steam.
The Australian squad, working for Goss, then powered to the front, outflanking the British, and for a moment it looked as if Cavendish could have been swamped.
But despite being around twelfth rider back as the pack swung into the finishing straight, Cavendish still had the strength to accelerate through the bunch, and bring the curtain down on the 2011 World Championships with Britain’s first men’s road-race gold since 1965.
The Elite Men’s Road Race is the last of the 2011 World Championships, and Cavendish’s victory places Great Britain definitively at the head of the medals table, with two golds, two silvers and two bronzes. Second are Australia, with two golds a silver and two bronzes, and third France with two golds and a silver.
No sooner has the racing ended in Denmark, though, than the countdown for the 2012 World Championships has begun: running from September 15th – 23rd in Limberg in the Netherlands, it will surely be every bit as exciting as this year’s edition. See you next year!
Photo: Matthew Goss – Mark Cavendish – André Greipel