Mark Cavendish drew first blood ahead of next year’s Olympic Games by sprinting to victory in front of Buckingham Palace to win the London-Surrey Cycle Classic – but the Manx Missile soon played down expectations of a repeat performance next year.
Tour de France green jersey winner Cavendish made no mistake in launching a trademark sprint from a select group to claim victory in 3:18:11 hours ahead of Italy’s Sacha Modolo and France’s Samuel Dumoulin on The Mall.
The official test event was run over 140km of the route to be used during London 2012, tackling only two laps of a Box Hill circuit, while the 250km Olympic race will contest nine.
And Cavendish insists the additional seven circuits of the Surrey climb could prove decisive in deciding the Olympic champion on July 28 next year.
“It’s nice to win but today gives me no indication about what will happen at London 2012,” said Cavendish.”The difference between the outcome of the race between two laps of Box Hill and nine is huge. This was never going to be a realistic taste of how the Olympic road race will go and we all knew that.
“I’m just very happy to win and the team did a great job for me. It’s a spectacular result for them.
“We’ve got an incredible group of guys, the strongest team we’ve ever had, and it bodes well for the world road race and the Olympics.”
A high-class field assembled in London to recce the course, with former world champion Tom Boonen (Belgium), Milan-San Remo winner Matt Goss (Australia) and Tyler Farrar (USA), who won a stage of this year’s Tour de France, fancied to feature in the expected bunch sprint.
Former national champion Kristian House (Rapha Condor Sharp), Tom Murray (Sigma Sport Specialized), Liam Holohan (Raleigh) and Cleberson Weber (Brazil) formed the early break and established a lead of more than six minutes, 30 seconds by the 50km mark.
Box Hill is set to be the key battleground during next year’s race, with its three hairpins adding a touch of Continental glamour to the 2.5km climb, which has an average gradient of roughly five per cent.
While spectators were free to line most of the route, as they will be during the Games, Box Hill, a National Trust site, and the start/finish on The Mall were restricted to those who had applied for wristbands, leaving the crowd confined to a single area on the climb and just one-deep on the home straight where Cavendish secured victory.
In a bid to enter as many riders as possible, British Cycling also fielded an ‘England’ team, with Steve Cummings, Russell Downing, Chris Froome, Jeremy Hunt and Dan Lloyd effectively working for Cavendish.
And their white and red jerseys moved to the front of the peloton on the first climb of Box Hill in a bid to bring back the break, reducing the deficit to three minutes at the foot of the second ascent.
Former Brazilian time trial champion Weber and Murray both fell victim to the break’s pace, while Holohan and House, who won the King of the Mountains competition, saw their advantage trimmed to less than two minutes as peloton ramped up the pressure ahead of the 50km run-in back to the capital.
That prompted Tour de France stage winner Heinrich Haussler (Australia), who had earlier been caught in a minor crash at the back of the peloton, and 2004 World Championship bronze medallist Luca Paolini (Italy) to launch an attack off the front of the peloton.
But, with the bunch motoring, that was doomed to fail and House and Holohan also saw their lead disappear as central London loomed large.
The lightning-fast pace saw a split in the bunch with two kilometres remaining, while Farrar was put out of the running after a puncture in the closing stages – but Cavendish held his nerve to launch his sprint with 50m remaining and add yet another victory to his palmares.
1. Mark Cavendish – GBR – 3:18:11
2. Sacha Modolo – ITA – same time
3. Samuel Dumoulin – FRA – same time
4. Stuart O’Grady – AUS – same time
5. Michal Golas – POL – same time
6. Borut Bozic – SLO – same time
7. Alexander Kristoff – NOR – same time
8. Matt Goss – AUS – same time
9. Ian Bibby – GBR – same time
10. Andrew Tennant – GBR – same time