I alluded to this in my pre-Worlds write-up, but I was so amazed at how the race unfolded that I want to bring it up again.
First off, the Brits rode an incredible race and when Cavendish ended up in a lost position with 250m to go, he found the tiniest of gaps, went through it and became the deserving champion. They rode a great race, so did Ben King and the Belgiums. Unfortunately it’s tough to call it a great race when the other teams never participated, let’s say it was a great team time trial (maybe the other teams were confused because the team time trial is only a world championships event starting NEXT year).
Were the Brits so good that they kept the tempo high enough for 260k so that nobody could escape? I’ll stick with my original statement that that is impossible. If every rider spends 35k in the front, there is no way they can keep a tempo that prevents people from jumping away. Obviously they got some help from the Germans (and from Ben King) and they were able to take their rest during stretches where the pace “slowed”, enough so that in the last 60k they could dictate a blistering pace. Still very impressive, but why did the other teams allow that to happen?
For starters we have the first breakaway. Somehow when the first break of non-contenders is up the road, everybody follows the “group up the road” script. They grow their lead, it hovers around 5-8-10-15 minutes (whatever makes sense on that course), then their lead dwindles and when they’re almost caught the next adventurers try their luck. But the “group up the road” script gave the Brits a chance to conserve energy as the pace dropped, energy they put to good use in the last lap.
To their credit, the Belgians were the only ones who realized that the “group up the road” script – while standard – would not work be the best script for them and they sent two riders in a second group long before the first group was caught. But both groups were too small to really develop a pace that could rival the British time trial machine, so they never had to go too deep to stay within reach.
The second bit of psychology is the self-confidence abundantly present in sprinters. Ten riders fancy themselves bunch sprinters, and all ten figured they could win on Sunday. It doesn’t matter how often they’ve been beaten by Cavendish, because the selection process from 10 year-old boy to top sprinter ensures that all ten are convinced of their own capabilities. And so any glimmer of hope is used to convince oneself that Copenhagen will be different than the dozen recent losses they may have suffered against Cavendish.
And going forward, the same will continue. Goss will tell himself that if he had kept Haussler’s wheel, he would have won. Greipel will convince himself that with a better position, next year’s rainbow jersey would be XXL instead of XXS. Heck, Cancellara may have read yesterday’s blog comments and realize he would have won had he been in his drops or chopped them off!
Of course, none of this is true. Football used to be a game in which 11 play 11 with a round ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans win. Likewise, flat courses give us races of 200 cyclists where 10 fancy their chances and in the end, Cavendish wins.
P.S. If Cavendish flats or he doesn’t find the gap, obviously this whole theory goes down the drain. But the reality is, he did find the gap and he rarely flats.
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