Following Bradley Wiggins' victory in the Tour de France British cycling is on a high. And things could get even better, with Mark Cavendish heavy favourite to win Team GB's first gold medal in Saturday's Olympic road race. But it is far from a guaranteed. If Cavendish is to win, it will require a far greater performance from him and his team than the excellent one that made him world champion last year.
Cavendish's speciality is sprinting. When it comes to getting the line before any other cyclist he is the best in the world. If he is to lose on Saturday it is unlikely to be because he is outsprinted. The biggest danger he faces are the nine climbs up Box Hill that must be negotiated before they ride on towards The Mall.
The climbs themselves are not anything Cavendish has not faced during this month's Tour de France, but this is different. Team GB will have to contend with other teams attacking on the climbs, knowing their only chance of gold is to prevent a sprint finish against Cavendish. Team GB will undoubtedly lose time on the climbs but the crucial question is how much.
There are 40 kilometres between Box Hill and The Mall so there is a chance to regain time. Team GB are likely to get help from Germany and possibly Australia who want to set up a sprint for Andre Greipal and Matt Goss respectively. They combined with the power of GB's David Miller, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Ian Stannard could regain a decent amount of ground. But even so, if Cavendish really struggles there is a real chance he won't be on The Mall in time to contest the finish.
This challenge has been well recognised by Cavendish. He has lost around five kilos this year, reducing his top speed, specifically to improve his climbing ability. But even so this is not a stage naturally suited to him. Furthermore he faces some dangerous competition.
Peter Sagan was the sensation of this year's Tour de France, where he won the Green Jersey and three stages. Just 22, he already looks set to become one of the sport's greats. The Slovak combines top class sprinting, although not quite Cavendish pace, with good climbing ability. He has the power to breakaway from Team GB on Box Hill and then outsprint the rest on The Mall. His one disadvantage is his nationality. He will be the only representative of Slovakia so will have no support. He may also be tired from his Tour exertions.
Another danger will be Tom Boonen. He dominated this year's classics, prestigious one day races similar to Saturday's, and missed the Tour de France specifically to focus on his Olympic chances. Unlike Sagan he will have a strong Belgian team to assist him. He is the kind of rider capable of breaking away from the field and keeping them at bay until the finish.
Of course Cavendish still has a good chance. But all will depend on how well he climbs on Box Hill. As long as he does not lose too much time, the power of Millar, Wiggins, Stannard and Froome should deliver him to The Mall in time for the sprint. At which point you would be brave to bet against him taking gold.
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