LONDON — Bollocks!
Less than 24 hours after the smashing success of the Opening Ceremonies, more traditional Doom and Gloom descended over Great Britain. Perhaps this is the Big Guy’s way of reminding these people that if He is going to bestow them with the glorious weather that greeted their visitors earlier in the week, there would have to be some kind of weekend quid pro quo reminding them of their place in the global athletic community, or the world in general.
There is no Joy in Mudville, Mark Cavendish has struck out. So to speak.
Cavendish, a.k.a. the Manx Missile, was supposed to cap a glorious 24 hours by giving Great Britain its first of what is expected to be many, many gold medals at these Games. If it wasn’t a Drop-Dead Mortal Lock, it was pretty close. With the support of a cycling squad regarded hereabouts as the Best Team Ever Assembled, he was going to sprint home in the shadows of Buckingham Palace with the gold medal in the men’s road race, a grueling 155-mile jaunt beginning and ending in a historic part of London and featuring a ride through the Surrey countryside.
He finished 28th.
“We did everything we could,” he said. “We rode the race we wanted to ride.”
Then he got a bit cryptic, first taking a shot at the Australians, then saying, “We couldn’t pull the group back on Box Hill [a rise the riders had to go up and down nine times]. Other teams were content that if they didn’t win, we wouldn’t win. We expected it. If you want to win, you’ve got to take it to them.”
Cavendish is sort of an odd Brit, hailing, as he does, from the somewhat mysterious Isle of Man, the one the Lennon and McCartney neglected to immortalize in “When I’m Sixty-Four.’’ I was all set to overwhelm you with fascinating facts about his birthplace, but given his abysymal showing, it’s rather irrelevant now, wouldn’t you say?
But you’ve got to hear this one. The Isle of Man, which lies in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Ireland, is a “Self-Governing British Dependency.” The Queen’s title, if she ever chooses to visit? The “Lord of Mann.” As Shaughnessy says, you can’t make this stuff up.
Cavendish is now, however, a vanquished Brit. The Grand Plan, in which his Sky Procycling team, headed by newly minted Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, was supposed to control the peleton throughout before unleashing Cavendish’s legendary sprinting prowess. He would coast majestically down The Mall, arms aloft, accepting the thunderous cheers of an adoring English crowd, and in so doing would affirm England’s current international supremacy in the art of pedaling bicycles on both ovals and roads.
Why Cavendish? Because it was deemed to be his turn; that’s why. He had accepted a supporting role as Wiggins won The Tour, and now Wiggo, who had initiated this quadrennial extravaganza by ringing the world’s largest harmonically tuned bell (a whopping 23 tons) to begin Danny Boyle’s colossal theatrical tour de force, would repay the compliment.
But what the crowd saw instead was a two-man sprint to the finish in which Kazakhstan’s Alexander Vinokourov made Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran Uran (no misprint) pay for never having heard of Satchel Paige. Leading the race with perhaps 100 meters to go, Uran Uran looked over his shoulder, whereupon Vinokourov accelerated on his right and never relinquished the lead. Old Satch must have been Up There chuckling as he watched that one. What did he tell us about looking back? Alas, Colombia’s 12th all-time medal would be plata, not oro.
Vinokourov is a pretty good Olympic Moment himself. His Olympic career began in Atlanta 16 years ago. He won silver in this event four years later in Sydney. He called it quits before Beijing, but he came out of retirement, and here he is, a 38-year-old Olympic champion, having announced Retirement No. 2 at the end of this calendar year. Now that’s what I call giving yourself a nice little Going Away present.
Norwegian Alexander Kristoff won the bronze, while 22-year old American Taylor Phinney finished in the dreaded fourth position. But he kept the proper stiff upper lip. “Some would call fourth place the worst to arrive at the Olympics,” he said, “I won’t focus on that. I’ll get over it, but first I have to thank the team.”
Hardly had the race begun when a dog, obviously exercising its God-given right to cross the street, darted into the pack. There was a crash that took out upward of a dozen riders. And Swiss star Fabian Cancellara eliminated himself from medal contention with an inexplicable unforced slide into a barrier. But that’s road racing.
As for what went wrong, does anyone really know what happened? American Chris Horner suggested that the Brits were overconfident. Or should they just blame it on those bloody Aussies?
Cavendish, though disappointed, no doubt, will simply carry on. As you read this, he is in Belgium on behalf of his professional team. Monday he will be in France. Tuesday he will be in The Netherlands. Win or lose, he was getting out of town. Right now that really looks like a good idea.
Four years down the road, perhaps he can fit Rio into his schedule.