Seven cycling highlights for Great Britain from the London 2012 Olympics
Great Britain has been successful at cycling in previous Olympic Games, but I can’t imagine that they’ll ever do as well as this again. Britons should really stop and wallow in this while they can.
They changed the format of track cycling for the 2012 Olympics and many people felt it was to prevent GB from dominating as they had done in Beijing. Each nation was only allowed one entrant per event and they removed the individual pursuits in which GB has always been strong, replacing them with the omnium, which was thought to be a bit more of a lottery.
As it turned out, GB got a gold and a bronze in the two omnium events, but it could actually be argued that was a failure as they won seven of the ten track events in all. Seven golds out of ten!
Include the road races as well and there were too many highlights to squeeze into one article, so here are just seven. They’re not meant to be authoritative. They’re based on personal preference and also influenced by what I happened to watch.
7. Lizzie Armitstead’s silver
I was tempted to include the men’s road race, but it would be pushing it a bit to describe that as a highlight. Nevertheless, it played a key role in my enjoyment of cycling at this Olympics.
The unprecedented British cycling success that culminated with Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win encouraged the fantasy that planning and teamwork would result in victory after victory. The road race team’s failure put me straight, which meant it was all the more marvellous when victory after victory actually did ensue.
The men’s all-eggs-in-one-basket tactical approach was conspicuous by its absence in the women’s road race. Lizzie Armitstead was smart and strong and got herself in the decisive break in some nice, British weather conditions. Her silver medal foreshadowed what was to follow.
6. Chris Hoy winning the keirin
When you’ve been knighted for being a fast cyclist, you live with certain expectations. Sir Chris Hoy met those expectations.
5. Laura Trott is pleasantly unhinged
Laura Trott was part of the gold medal winning women’s team pursuit team (see below) and also won the omnium. She was born with a collapsed lung and was encouraged to embrace exercise to regulate her breathing.
Nothing seems straightforward with Trott, however. She used to pass out in mid-air when she did trampolining, so she stopped doing that, but even now, she throws up pretty much every time she races. I’m not sure whether it’s been these sorts of experiences which have made her ever so slightly deranged, but it’s a likeable characteristic.
Trott seems forever on the brink of demented laughter and she loves the taste of pain.
“Everyone goes on about the lactic burn and all that. They talk about the weird feeling you get in your mouth when the pain is bad – it tastes like blood – but I love that feeling.”
4. Victoria Pendleton’s last race
Odd that this might be presented as a highlight, but it helps if you understand her sporting mentality. First she raced for her dad, then she raced for her coaches, then she raced for her fans, but Vicky Pendleton never enjoyed racing. It would have been nice if she’d have retired with a win, but after being relegated in the first of three sprint final races, she finished with a weak performance in the second and had to settle for a silver medal.
However, that was only half the point. As David Millar said on Twitter:
“I think the world was just lifted off Vicki P’s shoulders, shows how much pressure she’s lived under, she deserves to be immensely proud.”
So now she can ride her bike round the Cheshire countryside and freed from her cycling commitments, she can even try other sports. Finally, Vicky Pendleton can do what she wants.
3. Men’s and women’s team pursuit
This was perhaps the most ridiculous of all events for Great Britain. Both the men and women competed in qualification, a semi final and a final and between the two teams, only the men’s semi-final wasn’t a world record.
2. Bradley Wiggins’ time trial win
It was almost sad when Wiggins pointed out that his sporting career was never going to top this. Just over a week before, he’d become the first Briton to win the Tour de France and now here he was winning the Olympic time trial with almost crushing inevitability.
1. Victoria Pendleton winning the keirin
If the relief of retirement was half the point of Vicky Pendleton’s Olympics, this was the other half. It was the most exciting race I watched and to see this astonishingly fast cyclist leave everyone else for dead to take the gold medal was, for me, just about sporting perfection.
When the derny bike pulled off, the world champion, Anna Meares, started making her way to the front. She led for a lap and then Guo Shuang overtook her round the outside on the bend. However, while Shuang was overtaking Meares, Pendleton went round the outside of both of them – a greater distance, but a far, far greater speed.
Pendleton was now in front in time for the last lap and the crowd went up to 11 for its entire duration. You would think it was as noisy as a crowd could ever get, but when she crossed the line, the decibels increased again and there was the most glorious white noise.
I can watch that race again and again and again. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it.