Mind the Gap: BBC Blows the Olympic Road Race

29/07/2012 01:42 BST | Updated 27/09/2012 10:12 BST

After the party, the post-mortem. Following the success of Danny Boyle's "Brilliant, breathtaking, bonkers" Opening Ceremony for London 2012, we didn't have to wait too long for the Big BBC Balls-up.

For British cycling fans it was disappointing not to see the Manx Missile Mark Cavendish slay the opposition on The Mall to claim a gold medal in the men's road race. After 250km there was no bunch sprint (except for the minor places), no sighting of the much-vaunted Sky -- sorry British -- lead-out train, and no chance for Bradley Wiggins to thank Cav for being a glorified water carrier for much of the Tour de France.

Instead we saw Kazakhstan's former blood doper Alexandre Vinokourov end his controversial career with a victory over Colombia's Rigoberto Urán. Mark Cavendish finished in 29th place. That wasn't the worst of it. BBC presenter Jake Humphrey tried to take a leaf out of Sue Barker's well-thumbed manual on How to be a Gracious Loser, by foolishly declaring Vinokourov "a very popular winner". Perhaps the Beeb's fresh-faced Formula 1 presenter has inhaled too many exhaust fumes, but Vinokourov is about as popular as the gaffe-prone Mitt Romney, or the nation's favourite bell-ringer, Jeremy Hunt.

The red-hot favourites didn't win, but that's road racing. After watching Team Sky's astonishing success at controlling the peloton in the recent Tour de France, it's obvious why the opposition was determined to stifle them at London 2012. The Australians, Swiss, Spanish, Belgians and Germans didn't want to end another afternoon staring forlornly at the retreating back wheel of Britain's prolific World Champion. So after nine (rather monotonous) laps of Box Hill, riders like Aussie veteran Stuart O'Grady, Philippe Gilbert and Fabian Cancellara consigned Team GB's medal hopes to the cycling equivalent of Boot Hill.

If you can't take the highs with the lows you shouldn't watch professional sport. (I say this as a Rafael Nadal fan who is gutted at the Spaniard's enforced absence from the Olympic tennis event.) But on the first full day of competition at these Games, what was really hard to stomach was the BBC's totally inept coverage of the road race.

I'm a newcomer to this sport, but even I know that there are two essential ingredients for armchair fans: knowing the identity of these lycra-clad supermen, and regular updates on the gaps in the field. Unfortunately, seasoned commentators Hugh Porter and Chris Boardman were hampered from start till finish by a lack of information about what was happening out there on the road.

Like us, they could see that a runaway dog with even less sense of occasion than "Mutt" Romney almost caused an early catastrophe in Twickenham. They gasped when Switzerland's reigning time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara took an undignified dive over his handlebars, about 10 miles from the finish. But could Porter tell us with any certainty which rider had crossed the line in third place? By then, he was so flummoxed by the similarity of some of the teams' attire, that he couldn't even identify which nations were trampling all over our golden dreams. As Norway's Alexander Kristoff grabbed the bronze, Porter was reduced to gabbling, "It's Spain, Denmark, no Netherlands . . . "

What a contrast to ITV4's professional and (largely) non-partisan coverage of the Tour de France. Paul Sherwen's lip-reading ability is matched only by his encyclopaedic knowledge of French chateaux; Phil Liggett is a national treasure; Gary Imlach is simply the best sports presenter on British TV.

Over on Twitter, Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) had this not-very-helpful tweet for irate fans:

"For those asking about more on-screen stats, graphics and info. None of it in the BBC control, we just take pictures provided to whole world."

As the French would say, c'est une blague? The BBC is host broadcaster of this event. I don't think you can pass the buck when you've spent seven years boasting about the all bells and whistles, multi-platform coverage you'll be supplying this summer. Cycling is a bit more complicated than other BBC "sports" like snooker and darts.

Bradley Wiggins may yet restore some British pride in Wednesday's time trial. I'm not sure what those "bellends" at the BBC can do to salvage the Corporation's waning reputation as a sports broadcaster.