BRITAIN’S 46-year wait for a World Road Race cycling champion came to an end in Copenhagen on Sunday as Mark Cavendish scorched home in a dramatic sprint at the end of 266kms hard racing – and city rider Ian Stannard played a key part in the win.
This was a win that’s been three years in the making, since Copenhagen was first announced as being the venue for this year’s World Championships, and since then both the riders and the background staff at British Cycling having been working hard at “Project Rainbow Jersey”.
The race consisted of a more than keenly contested nearly 30km “neutralised” zone followed by 17 laps of a 14km circuit that was tailor made for Cavendish as it was the flattest World Championship course since 2002.
And because it was such a “Cavendish friendly” circuit, once the racing got underway and the expected break – mainly comprising of riders from some of the smaller cycling nations – had gone up the road, Team GB were forced to the front to monitor the gap the front runners had opened up.
As the front of the 200 strong chasing peloton came through the finishing area as the laps ticked down, Stannard’s name came up time and again on the live results as he and his team-mates – including Bradley Wiggins, David Millar and Geraint Thomas – all protected Cavendish in his pursuit of the World Champion’s rainbow bands.
Team GB were the dominating force at the front of that peloton until the race entered the final 4kms and for the first time they were overtaken by the fresher, highly motivated Australian squad who themselves were helped by some Italian and German riders.
But Stannard stuck to his task and, followed by Thomas with Cavendish sticking even closer to the Welshman’s back wheel, the youngster punch a hole in the front of the Australian bunch to drag his team-mates once more to the front of the race.
Such was Stannard’s determination to get back to the front, his elbows brushing the side barriers, that his efforts were described as being more alike those of a boxer.
“It was a job done at that point,” explained Stannard in his usual understated manner. “We all worked very hard but it was easier to keep at the front than to keep fighting back up through the bunch each lap.
“If we’d kept at the back we’d have been forced to spend so much energy protecting ourselves and our position in the race so, at the front, we just kept sharing the work, keeping Cav where he needed to be.”
And those efforts were more than appreciated by Cavendish. After the race, wearing the rainbow jersey of the World Champion for the first time, he said: “We had eight of the best guys in the world, and this is the first time we’ve come together. They were incredible. They took the race on from start to finish and we won!”