Bittersweet Weekend on the Road Continues Cycling Fever across GB

Following Danny Boyle’s brilliantly bonkers Opening Ceremony on Friday night, hopes were high across Britain that one of our glory boys of recent times would cash-in on the wave of euphoria and kick-start our Olympic campaign with a gold medal. Sadly though, Saturday’s Men’s Cycling Road Race failed to deliver the result we were all hoping for when our great hope Mark Cavendish failed to ever seriously threaten a podium finish.

However, from the ashes of Cav’s failed attempt to get Team GB off the mark rose Lizzie Armitstead’s quite magnificent ride to a silver medal finish in the Women’s Road Race and this first medal of the Games was arguably made all the sweeter by the disappointment that Cavendish, his team mates and the entire sporting fan-base of Great Britain had suffered on the opening day.

Armitstead Silver Medal

The whole of GB was holding out for a Cavendish victory in the Men’s Road Race but instead we were able to celebrate a silver in the Women’s race for Lizzie Armitstead

I was one of many who was fortunate enough to see first hand the efforts both of the men and of the women in the road races and having never been a real fan of cycling before recent British successes (call me a glory supporter if you will…) I must admit that I am well on the path to conversion.

Don’t get me wrong, you are unlikely to find me gripped to my television screen watching road cycling events all year round but the monumental achievements of the likes of Mark Cavendish, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Lizzie Armitstead on the road over the past couple of years have certainly gone a long way towards inspiring a passion within me for the sport as a whole.

In order to break the back of learning both to watch and to enjoy road cycling I have found it helpful to compare it to test cricket which is a sporting discipline I have always had an enormous affection for.

Sure, some stages of test cricket can be an absolute bore as can some stages of the Tour De France but the beauty of both comes in the moments of sheer excitement that emerge from these lengthy spells of monotony and tedium.

Just as Cavendish’s disappointment made Armitstead’s success so thrilling, the dull and at times dismal periods of test cricket and road cycling make the great spells of play all the more memorable.

I can accept that road cycling will never be on a par with something like the 100m sprint at the Olympics in terms of sheer and complete excitement but where it does excel is in it’s ability to drag viewers through the seemingly more boring moments with captivating tactical battles which can only be fully appreciated as a result of an increased understanding.

Until recently I have never tried to properly understand the real gritty and at times enthralling tactical side to top-level cycling and though I am a million miles away from being an expert on the subject now, my knowledge has certainly improved and I can say with undoubted integrity that I am much more appreciative of the skill of road cycling for having spent some time taking an active interest in it.

It is also immensely helpful to me as a spectator of road cycling that I have now had the opportunity to see before my very eyes the world’s finest road cyclists’s taking on roads and landscapes with which I am well acquainted. Even if the route had taken in merely 250 km of straightforwards roads in my local area I would have gained a greater appreciation for their talents for having a more enhanced knowledge of the route, but for the male competitors in particular to have had to conquered Box Hill nine times in a row in the middle of their race is truly phenomenal and it has earned all my respect.

I myself am sporty and would consider myself to be reasonably fit but I would happily wager that I couldn’t manage one round of Box Hill in isolation without doing myself a serious mischief along the way. So, for them to have completed nine straight circuits of the area as just the focal point of their gruelling ride is totally astounding as it is a tricky enough ascent when walking on foot let alone when trying to force an unwilling bike up there.

As for the women’s race, they may only have had to conquer Box Hill twice in a shortened version of the men’s route but I have a very sizeable amount of respect for their efforts too in what was still an enormously demanding race which was also played out in some of Britain’s very filthiest summertime weather, unlike the men’s race which was awash with sunshine.

As I mentioned I was road side to see Armitstead and co whizz down Hampton Court Way on their route back towards The Mall and as I stood observing the latter stages of the race the conditions ranged from bellowing thunder, to huge bolts of lightning and then most joyously of all to a storm of hailstones.

That spell of vile weather was enough to make me feel terribly sorry for myself for just having to stand there getting soaked and stung by the hail let alone cycle into it at 50 kph for hours on end. Therefore I have nothing but the highest of praise and admiration for Lizzie Armitstead as she rustled up a whole lifetime’s worth of my capacity for bravery and resolve in just one day of phenomenal effort on the roads of London and Surrey.

Though Team GB’s plans may have gone a little awry in the men’s race, the women’s plans were implemented and executed superbly off the back of the knowledge provided by the previous day’s efforts and Lizzie Armitstead demonstrated tremendous skill, power and determination to force home a splendid finish and to grab a hold of Team GB’s first medal of our third Olympic Games.

Armitstead’s awesome show on the roads will undoubtedly see her go down in pub quiz folklore for the rest of her existence and beyond and the honour of becoming Team GB’s first medalist of our home games must surely be beyond her comprehension.

Hopefully over the next few days Armitstead’s opening medal for Team GB will inspire further success both on the bikes and in the many other varied sporting disciplines in which we are battling for medal success and just as an aside, congratulations to Rebecca Adlington for facing up to the enormous weight of expectation in grabbing a bronze medal in the Women’s 400m Freestyle. It has been a slow start for Team GB but the best is still to come…

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London 2012: 10 Days To Go, 10 Team GB Stories In The Making

With time running out until the start of the biggest and best celebration of world sport that Great Britain has arguably ever had the honour of hosting, the pre-Games excitement is reaching fever-pitch as the athletes flock to the Olympic Village and to the various other parts of the country where they’re required to be for their parts in proceedings.

There will undoubtedly be a wealth of huge stories to emerge over the next few weeks both in London and across other parts of the British Isles but with just 10 days to go until the official start of the Games I have picked out 10 big stories that could be set to unfold within Team GB.

Adam Gemili (Men’s 100m):

He may not be tipped to be in the dog-fight for medals in his first ever Games but many are tipping Gemili to break the 10 second barrier at the Olympics and if he does so it would make for a phenomenal story.

Gemili World Juniors

Gemili is one of the rising stars of British athletics and could be set to further enhance what has been stunning summer of personal achievement

It is enough already that the 18 year old has made the Team GB squad having barely taken the sport seriously up until the past twelve months or so, but if Gemili can plot a way through the heats then a time of less than 10 seconds may well be on the cards and that would represent yet another phenomenal achievement for the youngster.

Gemili has also made himself practically un-ignorable in terms of selection for the 4x100m relay squad with his recent form and perhaps he could make the difference and help push the team towards medal contention.

Bradley Wiggins (Men’s Cycling, Time Trial):

Wiggins Le Tour

‘Wiggo’ is well on course to win Le Tour, could another gold medal follow?

With Wiggins currently breaking records in the Tour De France and with him looking set to become Britain’s first ever winner of cycling’s showpiece event, this could prove to be yet another huge summer for British cycling and that is before we even reach the Olympic Games where we will once again be expected to blow away much of the competition in several different disciplines.

If Wiggins were to win Le Tour and then come back to London and win another Olympic gold medal it would be hard for anybody to rival him in terms of British sporting hero status this year.

Team GB Football (Men’s and Women’s):

This is not a sport which Team GB are particularly well acquainted with given that we have never entered a Women’s team and that we haven’t entered a Men’s side in a very long time but if either of our sides make it out of the group stages at the Games then they will fancy their chances of getting themselves into serious medal-winning contention.

Pearce GB

Pearce courted with controversy when he left David Beckham out of his squad for the Olympics

The only tickets I have for the Games are for the Men’s final of the football at Wembley Stadium so lets hope for my benefit at least that Team GB can do the business!

Robbie Grabarz (Men’s High Jump):

Grabarz High Jump

Grabarz is amongst Team GB’s greatest hopes in the field events

Since the days of Jonathan Edwards dominating the triple jump and Steve Backley simultaneously competing with the likes of Jan Zelezny in the javelin, Team GB have struggled to produce much in terms of major male competition for medals in field events but with Robbie Grabarz tipped for a medal at this summer’s Games things could well be about to change.

Christine Ohuruogu (Women’s 400m):

Reigning Women’s 400m Olympic champion Ohuruogu hasn’t exactly enjoyed the best years of her career since Beijing in 2008 but recent signs suggest that she could well be timing her charge for further Olympic glory rather well.

Ohuruogu London Grand Prix

Ohuruogu is not quite at her best but her recent form has been encouraging

She may well be a little way off the world’s leading times for this year but her performance in the 400 at the London Grand Prix over the past weekend suggests that she could well still have a hope of getting herself into contention for the medals in spite of the injury and confidence problems she has suffered since her lasting outing at the Games.

The strength she demonstrated to power through the field over the last 5o metres of Saturday’s race at Crystal Palace had all the hallmarks of a classic Ohuruogu triumph and if the weather is as bad as it was the other day when the Women’s 400m final takes place at the Olympic Stadium in a couple of weeks time then she would have to be considered a serious threat.

Lutalo Muhammad (Men’s Taekwondo):

Arguably the most controversial of all the decisions made by the panel of selectors for Team GB was the omission of World Number One Aaron Cook for the Men’s Taekwondo squad.

Muhammad London 2012

Lutalo Muhammad’s controversial selection at Aaron Cook’s expense has the makings of a classic Olympic story

Instead, the selectors have opted for Lutalo Muhammad who is ranked just 59 in the world but many who know far more about the ins and outs of Taekwondo than myself are tipping him to make a big impression this summer. He may not be as strong as Cook on paper but those in the know think he could well be a major medal contender and who am I to disagree?

We will no doubt never hear the end of it if Muhammad doesn’t win a gold medal, so lets just hope he does even if just for the sake of the selectors!

Phillips Idowu (Men’s Triple Jump):

Idowu is undoubtedly one of Team GB’s most decorated track and field stars of recent times but four years ago in Beijing he was on the end of a shock result when he managed just a silver medal in the Men’s Triple Jump when many expected him to land gold and now he could well be cruelly denied the chance to avenge this missed opportunity because of injury.

Idowu Silver Medal

Idowu has a point to prove after his disappointment in Beijing but injury could yet prevent him from showing his best

With such little time remaining before the Games get under way and with such little time to go until Phillips will be called into action, he is probably the most high profile injury concern of the entire Team GB squad. He is though still set to try and compete and perhaps the dampened expectations of him due to his current injury struggles will help him go under the radar and land the gold medal he so craves.

Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis (Men’s 5,000/10,000m and Women’s Heptathlon):

The evening session of August the 4th is set to be arguably the biggest night of the Games for Team GB as it plays host to poster-girl Jess Ennis’ efforts to try and win the Women’s Heptathlon and also to one of our greatest gold medal hopes in men’s athletics when Mo Farah is set to compete in the Men’s 10,000m final.

Farah Ennis London 2012

Farah and Ennis are arguably Britain’s two greatest hopes for gold medals in the Olympic Stadium

This evening session of athletics will undoubtedly be one the most sought after tickets for all Team GB fans and the prospect of us landing two track golds in the space of an hour is truly mouth-watering.

Ben Ainslie (Men’s Sailing, Finn):

Ben Ainslie

Ben Ainslie begun the Olympic Torch’s journey around Britain at Lands End and now he is search of a fourth Olympic gold

He is already considered one of of Great Britain’s all-time greatest Olympians for having won gold medals at each of the last three Olympic Games as well as a silver medal in Atlanta in 1996 but if Ainslie were to win yet another gold this summer then he may well jump even higher up the list.

Surely only the likes of Sir Steve Redgrave still stand between him and the title of being our greatest ever Olympian and it would be interesting to see whether he will get the praise he deserves if he triumphs yet again, as he is often the forgotten man in such debates.

Andy Murray (Men’s Tennis Singles and Doubles):

Having endeared himself to much of the British public who still had their reservations about him with his run to the Wimbledon final this summer, Andy Murray now has a great chance to go one step closer to becoming a fully-certified national hero in the Men’s Singles competition at the Olympics.

Andy Murray Wimbledon 2012

Murray performed brilliantly at the All England Club a couple of weeks ago and now he is aiming to produce a similar level of form and grab a first Olympic medal

Even if he doesn’t fare well in the Singles he has the lifeline of competing alongside his brother Jamie Murray in the Men’s Doubles ¬†at the Games and they as a pair would have to be considered serious contenders for a medal.