On the back of the Box Hill circuit there was a descent followed by a steep rise that turned into a drag. It’s the kind of road you approach with plenty of momentum from the descent but then it climbs up too much to carry speed, instead riders had to balance momentum with power.
That’s just what happened today, we saw a clever move launched by Olga Zabelinskaya, blasting past Amber Neben and Emma Pooley and the Russian was joined by Lizzie Armitstead, Shelley Olds and Marianne Vos. The four got away and this was the winning move.
The race started with rain and as the riders rolled out of London it was one of the Fernandes sisters of Brazil who attacked but the move didn’t last long. Caught, the bunch started to roll together and TV commentators and Twitter alike started to jeer and comments about the race being boring appeared. Little did they know.
The race was still in the London suburbs when Ellen Van Dijk of the Netherlands launched the first of several attacks. Apply foresight or hindsight and these were obvious moves to soften up the field for the team’s leader, Vos. But did it work? Well the race went up the climb of Staple Lane with the riders spread wide over the road, things looked calm yet on the descent it was Vos who got a gap and then attacked hard once on the main road road. It woke up the bunch who chased.
On to Box Hill and the hostilities picked up. Britain’s Emma Pooley was especially active, she is a climber and likes riding away so no wonder but she was marked, often by Vos. The first lap of Box Hill ended without too much of a change, the bunch had shrunk and defending Olympic champion Nicole Cooke was struggling. On the second time up Box Hill things stayed quiet again until Vos attacked, a giant move with a powerful acceleration and energy that lasted for some time. But first Armitstead got across and then so did others and the move was shut down.
Round back of the circuit and Pooley went clear with Neben but they had a slender lead and it was on the crest of the hill – the same spot used in the mens race by many riders to slip the British stranglehold – that Russia’s Olga Zabelinskaya jumped, and was soon joined by Vos, Olds and Armitstead. The four got a gap and quickly turned into a meaningful escape although the lead reached 20 seconds, 22 seconds and slowly crept up. The four started working together better and behind the bunch was led by Italy and Germany but like with the men’s race, the chase did not see rider after rider committing to the chase, instead a few riders were deployed to do long, tiring turns.
Disaster struck for Shelley Olds when she punctured. A good sprinter she had a strong chance of winning the race outright and certainly I would have wagered more than a one-in-four chance on a medal. But all she ended up with was a spare wheel from the neutral service vehicle.
The four begin to reach suburban London and the gap was forty seconds, hardly a comfortable margin but the lead trio were assured of a medal if they co-operated and they were working together flawlessly until the final few kilometres. With two kilometres to go, Vos didn’t come through, forcing Zabelinskaya to keep going and Armitstead sat tight on Vos’s wheel.
The same position was there in the final straight. Zabelinskaya went but was soon past by Vos with Armitstead on her wheel. But if the Briton was in the right place, she was on the wrong wheel. Vos is the world’s best female road rider and has had an exceptional season. Outside Buckingham Palace Marianne Vos was crowned queen of cycle sport and fittingly Elizabeth was the second.
- Despite apologies and promises to improve things for Sunday the race was still badly handled by the TV production crew. We got time checks but the graphics only appeared from time to time. Instead I was timing the gaps myself and when the TV captions they were sometimes were wrong. There was still no permanent countdown of the distance remaining and worse, the heavy rain fogged up the camera lenses, as if the broadcast was sponsored by Instagram. Yet this only added to the tension and uncertainty and the last hour provided great suspense and even if the best rider in the world was the winner, the result was never certain until 20 metres to go.
- Why was this so bad? The broadcasters are blaming Twitter but if the cellular network caused problems with the static time check poijnt at the top of Box Hill, this doesn’t explain everything. None of the TV commentators got a feed of the race radio, often called “radio tour”. The race convoy had accurate time checks meaning officials and team cars were aware of everything but the TV commentators were not. This was compounded by the production decision not to clutter the TV screen with vital information like the distance remaining and a permanent on-screen graphic with the time gaps leaving people confused. And to make matters worse, one of the TV relay planes used to beam the signals developed electrical problems and had make an emergency crash landing causing a late minute worry for the broadcasters.