Olympic Road Race

Attempting to televise a 7 hour race must be a network’s nightmare. Most people, myself included, would be bored out of their skull watching 7 hours of racing. Listening to Paul Sherwin helps but let’s be realistic. There are other sports occuring so the best solution for NBC was to periodically cut to the road race for 20 minute or so intervals. I couldn’t have asked for much more. Cycling is such a 2nd tier sport for the American public and has the dark, drug cloud veiling it that I was happy with any coverage at all.

Fears of postponing the race because of smog were not realized. However, a haze filled the Beijing sky and temperatures sored into the 90’s with humidity in the 90 percents. 143 riders from around the world began the 150 mile marathon in front of Tiananmen Square; picturesque and culturally significant. The exciting part about this race was the fact that the Tour de France was less than 2 weeks old so a majority of the riders were in peak physical condition. It was anyone’s guess who was the favorite. Many riders were potential gold medalists.

The Italian, Spanish, and American teams looked to be the favorites on paper. The Spanish team comprised the Tour de France Champion, the green jersey Champion of the Tour, and the Tour of Italy Champion. Plus, they had pre-Tour favorite and eventual 9th place finisher Alejandro Valverde. And you thought it was tough to make the US team?

2 km into the race riders from Bolivia and Chile attacked the peloton. The infamous, but anticipated, doomed attack had begun. Who can blame them? They achieved 2 hours of fame that I don’t have. They eventually built a maximum lead of over 10:00 minutes. After a series of unsuccessful attacks to bridge a group of 26 riders detached themselves from the pack. All the major teams were represented except America and Russia. This was bad. As it left David (sans-moustache) Zabriske and the other Americans to chase hard. Gruppo Compacto occured with 70 km to go but managed to dislodge all the Americans except Leipheimer, Vande Velde, and Hincapie.

At this point Carlos Sastre (Spain) put the hammer down and put the hurt on the rest of the peloton. Riders were being dropped like bad transmissions. Persistent attacking from Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) released Davide Rebellin (Italy), Samuel Sanchez (Spain), Michael Rogers (Australia), and Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) from the pack and the winning break was up the road.

It looked as though Schleck was the strongest rider in the break as he kept attacking. I believe this was his mistake as Rebellin and the others kept bridging and sitting on. He should have forced the others to work then attacked when they were working instead of attacking while they were resting. He would eventually place 5th for his efforts.

Apparently there was a very selective group of 12 chasing the 5 ahead. This group included American’s Leipheimer and Vande Velde, Bettini, Valverde, and Cancellara. Because of the goofy TV coverage I wasn’t exactly aware that the chase group was only 12 seconds back and I wasn’t sure how the pack got whittled down to 12 riders. Knowing this would have made the finale even more exciting than it already was.

As the cameras kept panning back you saw the man with biggest cajones in the peloton (since Bernard Hinault) chasing like a bat out of hell. Fabian Cancellara was putting in one of his patented Herculian solo efforts. He was making chopped liver of his pedals and the 5 leaders. Apparenlty he just motored away from the group of 12 chasers like only he can.

Cancellara made contact with only 900 meters remaining. I was on the edge of my seat and he was my new favorite. The action reminded me of Eric Vanderarden bridging up to 2 domestiques in the final 300 meters to win the 1987 Paris-Roubaix.

Kolobnev lead out the sprint and Sanchez easily raised his arms in victory. Spain had clearly the strongest team. Rebellin and Cancellara finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. Quite an exciting race for periodic coverage.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the women’s race. It might have been as exciting as the men’s race because of the constant deluge of rain. Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) made a Cancellara-esque move, bridging up with 500 meters to go. However, Cooke easily outsprinted her breakaway companions for Olympic gold.

Overall, I was impressed with the road race coverage. I just wished NBC hadn’t concentrated so much on the leaders and acknowledged the chasers. What did you think?