2011 UCI Road World Championships
Location: Copenhagen, Denmark
Event: 19-25 September 2011
Report: Eddie Allen
Images: Press Association/Cheryl King
Mark Cavendish is Elite Men's Road World Champion, after a courageous, dominant performance from the GB team, who had to close down a multitude of dangerous breakaway attacks. The GB team took the race on from the start, sticking to their plan with rigour, policing the front of the peloton, never tempted to play the percentage game and throw a man into one of the numerous guerilla attacks by other nations.
Above: Cavendish times his effort to perfection after a dogged and dominant performance from the GB team. (Image: John Giles/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
Cheryl King's Slideshow
How the Race Unfolded
The grand finale of the 2011 Road Worlds, the Elite Men's Road Race saw 210 of the world's top riders take on the 266km course; 17 laps of the 14km main loop, preceded by a 28km neutralised zone from Copenhagen city centre. With the flat course offering GB's Mark Cavendish an unprecedented opportunity for victory and with the strongest ever GB team behind him, British hopes were justifiably high.
The initial ‘neutralised' 28km opening sector was far from neutral, with riders from Croatia, Ukraine, Brazil, Venezuela and Chile making early attempts to get away. However by the time the race reached the course proper all but the Croatian Danculovic and Brazilian Bulgarelli had been swept up. They were soon joined by Chuzhda of Ukraine and Roux of France. Throughout the opening stages of lap one, the breakaway was never more than a few seconds ahead of the peloton.
The group continued to swell, with Lastras of Spain, Kangert of Estonia, Poos of Luxembourg, Kiserlovski of Croatia and Iglinskiy of Kazakhstan joining the group. Their lead swelled to around a minute as the race ticked off its first of seventeen laps. Behind, Colombian Casas Buitra and Bulgarelli, the latter having dropped out of the break along with Danculovic, were attempting to make the junction.
Lap two and 50km completed and the lead group had 3 minutes 30 seconds on the main field, Casas and Bulgarelli still dangling inbetween. As the lap progressed the breakaway lead increased to over five minutes, the relaxed looking peloton seemingly happy to let the line reel out.
At 64km the breakaway lead had gone out to 7 minutes and 43 seconds. Bulgarelli and Casas were still plying a lonely trade in between with a further duo of Askari of Iran and El Ammoury of Morocco between them and the peloton, GB and Germany setting the pace on the front.
A lap later and the gap and swelled further, at over eight minutes as the peloton crossed the line, the only change that Askari and El Ammoury had been swept up. Even that this early stage, Great Britain were clearly wary of the gap going out much further and committed the majority of the team to pacemaking at the fore of the peloton.
The breakaway group crossed the line once more with 92km under their wheels in just under two hours, an astonishing average of over 46kmh (28mph), clearly not the sedate start that many of the teams had hoped. As the peloton passed through it was clear that the concerted efforts of the GB team were beginning to pay off; the break was now only 7 minutes 45 ahead and the duo of Bulgarelli and Casas were all but reeled in.
A lap later at 106km the gap was under seven minutes, with GB's Chris Froome and Germany's Bert Grabsch taking turns at the front of a strung out peloton. Fast forward another 14km lap and the gap to the break was down to 5 minutes 46 seconds. At the rear of the peloton a feedzone fall involving USA and Anders Lund of host nation Denmark marked the first of the day's inevitable incidents.
A lap on the race reached half distance and there was more drama at the feed-zone, with Wouter Poels of the Netherlands almost hit by a race car. The gap continued to slowly drop, to 5 minutes and 30 seconds. Great Britain and Germany continued to get absolutely no help whatsoever at the front, understandable given their strength and overall chance of victory.
On the finish straight at the end of the lap an attack stirred things up. Johan Van Summeren of Belgium and Yohan Offredo of France instigated a break. They were quickly joined by Simon Clarke of Australia, Paolini of Italy and Kaisen of Belgium. The main breakaway was still over 5 minutes up the road and suddenly the dynamic of the race had changed.
7 laps to go and the lead group, headed by Roux, pressed on, with Poos of Luxembourg losing touch. The second breakaway group continued to gain ground and with some experienced breakaway specialists like Van Summeren involved, they were not a quintet to be trifled with.
At 170km with two dangerous groups up the road, the chasing efforts of the peloton became more wholehearted, with a greater mix of teams getting involved in the pace setting, good news for GB who had done a mountain of work in the early stages. The leading break was now just 3 minutes 22 ahead, with the second group at 2 minutes 20. Meanwhile, Christain Poos had been absorbed into the peloton, break-time over.
As the main field crossed the line at 176km, Visconti of Italy attacked, quickly joined by dangerman Simon Gerrans of Australia and a host of others. The attack sent shockwaves through the peloton but GB responded quickly to reel things back in.
Shortly after a big crash in the peloton took out a number of riders including Frank Schleck, Michael Barry and other big names. More critically however, the crash caused a split in the main peloton. Thanks to GB's up-front tactics, none of the Brits were caught on the wrong side of the split. Defending champion Hushovd and USA sprint star Tyler Farrar were, however, not so lucky. Meanwhile the two lead groups had merged with just over a minute on the front half of the now split peloton.
Dutchman Pieter Weening added further spice by stirring up another break off the front of the peloton, while around a minute back, it transpired that Tony Martin of Germany was another unlucky big name to be caught on the wrong side of the split.
Meanwhile at the sharp end of the race, the single consolidated breakaway group, headed by Offredo of France pushed on through the feedzone with an advantage of 1 minute 35 over the main field. Right on cue, Italy's Visconti and Gerrans attacked again, causing more anxiety in the British led peloton. The second half of the peloton containing Hushovd and Martin was still a long way back from the leaders.
With around 60km to go, Danish rider Anders Lunt was the next to attack, dragging with him a multitude of other riders, momentarily sending GB into disarray on the front of the peloton. Great Britain swiftly reassembled at the front, dug deep and chased down hard and the Lunt breakaway sat up. The frenetic activity up at the front end of the race meant that the Hushovd group looked increasingly unlikely to make the junction - a change of rainbow jersey sitter looked to be on the cards.
At 218 out of 266km, the Roux-led group had just 59 seconds on the main field and behind, once again, the Italians attacked in front of huge crowds, pulling away another breakaway group. Then another break containing Nuyens, Rogers and more made life even harder for GB to maintain control. Home rider Lars Bak was next to attack, attempting to bridge to the Nuyens group while at the head of the race the infighting was beginning, with Roux attacking off the front.
With two laps to go, Roux had gained 14 seconds over his breakaway companions. Another 14 seconds lay Lars Bak, desperate to make contact with the remainder of the break. The Nuyens break had long since been absorbed by the peloton, who were 51 seconds behind race leader Roux of France. Going backwards was Estonian Kangert, who had worked hard all day in the initial break.
The GB squad remained resolute in their purpose, keeping control at the front of the group despite repeated attacks and huge temptation to change tack. Driven on by GB, the break was soon swept up but then, right on cue an attack from the ever combative Frenchman Thomas Voekler, joined by Dane Nikki Sorensen and Belgian Lodewyck threatened to rubbish GB's well honed battle plan.
The bell lap came and the Voekler group had 18 seconds on the peloton. GB were desperate to hang on, Wiggins stringing out the GB squad who were wringing the neck of the stretched peloton. Dutchman Jonny Hoogerland was next to attack, going off the front with half a lap to go. Hoogerland quickly bridged to the Voekler group and it looked to be slipping away from GB. Hooglerland recovered momentarily and attacked off the front of the group. Meanwhile Wiggins was heroic at the front of the group, desperate to drag the group back for the finish.
Wiggins' phenomenal time-trialling ability brought the break back, but not before Voekler tried one last solo attempt. With 12 kms to go, it was all back together. A few kilometres later, Wiggins, having given it his all, ran out of gas and dropped back into the peloton, with Stannard and Thomas keeping the pace high for Cavendish.
2km to go and the German and Australian teams began to come to the fore, threatening to swamp the Brits. The GB train had suddenly diminished to Thomas and Stannard, Stannard forced his way through on the barriers with Thomas and Cavendish on his wheel. However going into the final few hundred yards Cavendish appeared to be boxed, having dropped back from Thomas' wheel. Thomas looked back and slowed up, re-establishing contact with Cavendish. But the Manxman had slotted onto Lars Boom's wheel, playing a waiting game. before coming through on the Dutchman's right, momentarily slotting onto Matt Goss' wheel before jumping clear. Goss followed and came close but Cavendish's timing and positioning was perfect. Arms raised, Cavendish took the world title after a dominant, courageous performance from the entire GB team. Behind, Greipel and Cancellara battled for third in a photo finish, the massive German given bronze after the photo was examined.
Following the race an ecstatic Cavendish spoke to BBC Sport:
"We had eight of the best guys in the world. It was incredible, we took it on from start to finish," said Cavendish. "I can't believe it. We knew three years ago when this course was announced - we put a plan together to put these best guys together. It's been three years in the making and you just saw they rode incredibly. I'm just so proud."
Within hours of Cavendish and the team's incredible win, Twitter had been stretched to the limit with a massive outpouring of support and congratulations for Mark and the team and soon after the result and report had been flagged up on the British Cycling Facebook page, over 400 people had ‘liked' the news and over 100 had commented. Here are just a few comments that sum up the feeling at this pivotal point in British cycling history:
Nick Hammond "Best sprinter ever? I think so"
Martin Ariss "I actually had goosebumps watching the finish, no more to be said!!"
Paul Allen "Proud to be British....what a team I salute you....all"
Pete Young "That was a great race, all the superstars of cycling going flat out but the best of them all is British! Agree with all the others, Green Jersey and now Rainbow Jersey is some achievement - must get Sports personality of the year if there's any justice."
Kevin 'Herbie' Blackburn "Just the proudest day for GB cycling ever - Cav just delivers beyond expectation!"
Rupert Pepper "Wonderful team effort. So pleased for everyone involved. British cycling has never had it so good, and we should cherish every one of those riders."
Karen Spruyt "FANTASTIC - what a tremedous example of unselfish team-work, single-minded determination, and state-of-the-art organisation and planning. Well done everyone at British Cycling."
Geoff Walker "Awesome awesome awesome. Im loving it-GB cycling world domination. Knighthoods for all of them. Cav for PM."
Rick Wallis "Amazing team performance from every single member of that GB team. Brads amazing solo turn on the front to pull back Tommy's group and the way Ian Stannard made his own space to destroy the Aussies and then Cav doing what Cav does - Thank you British Cycling for doing such an amazing job Team GB were head and shoulders above every other country. AMAZING stuff, and I will never forget how good it felt to see Cav cross that line first."
1 CAVENDISH Mark GBR 5:40:27 +0
2 GOSS Matthew Harley AUS " "
3 GREIPEL André GER " "
4 CANCELLARA Fabian SUI " "
5 ROELANDTS Jurgen BEL " "
6 FEILLU Romain FRA " "
7 BOZIC Borut SLO " "
8 BOASSON HAGEN Edvald NOR " "
9 FREIRE GOMEZ Oscar ESP " "
10 FARRAR Tyler USA " "
81 THOMAS Gerraint GBR
99 STANNARD Ian GBR
108 WIGGINS Bradley GBR
114 MILLAR David GBR
115 HUNT Jeremy GBR
42 CUMMINGS Steve GBR DNF
43 FROOME Christopher GBR DNF