Experience of Team GB road captain invaluable in bid for gold
If Mark Cavendish is to win this weekend's Olympic road race he's likely to power down the the Mall, unleashing a trademark sprint that leaves his rivals trailing.
But before those final 250 meters lies 249.8 kilometres of a testing, narrow, and unpredictable course. If Cavendish has any chance of success he'll need to count on the support of his four teammates, and none more so than David Millar.
Millar, 35, may not be the strongest powerhouse on the Great Britain team, he probably isn't the best candidate to lead Cavendish out either, but as the team's road captain he'll play a pivotal role in the home nation's race.
Unlike the majority of the events professional riders compete in throughout the calendar year, the Olympic road race stands out: a unique set of differences separating it from the Classics and grand tours. Trade team loyalties are forgotten, race radios are switched off and typical eight-man squads (nine for grand tours) are slimmed to a maximum of five.
Millar, by far the most experienced rider on the squad, labels his team role as 'panic management'. He'll assess situations and with the team's race car almost powerless and communication muffled, Millar's cool headedness will be crucial as he lines the team's defences. Cavendish is aware of how important Millar will be.
"He's able to stay calm and analyse situations really, really well. He knows this sport and he's not scared to call shots. He's not hesitant and that's great - as someone who knows how to read a race and is willing to take the responsibility, it's refreshing to have. And he's strong, he knows how to ride for a sprint, he knows how to ride climbs, all types of terrain," the sprinter told the assembled press on Thursday.
Team principle Dave Brailsford selected Millar for a similar role in last year's Worlds in Copenhagen. The plan worked, with the race staying together for a sprint and Cavendish able to pick his way through the opposition to win.
Just like in Copenhagen, the British team are favourites. They've even said so themselves.
"There isn't a team as strong as us," Millar said.
"I think that every team that starts knows that there isn't a team as strong as us and everyone is expecting us to control the race. And we have to. We announced we're riding for Cav, we've made it public, we've almost pointed ball park, Babe Ruth style, in how we're going to do it. So it's now a question for every other team to strategise how they can make it difficult for us and we're basically going to have weather the storm.
"By announcing it, in many ways it provokes them to react just how we expect them to act. There's no point in hiding what we're going to do."
In Copenhagen British control started early, with all of Cavendish's men near the front, policing attacks and absorbing pressure. With just five men, and 250 kilometres of racing, the task multiplies. Allies may come in the form of Australia and Germany, perhaps even the USA, but Wiggins, Froome, Stannard and Millar will be the principle peloton pace setters.
"Let's say we've got 8 in that five," Millar said enthusiastically. "Wiggins and Froome just finished first and second in the Tour de France so they're worth four guys. We've got Cav who is worth two guys in the sprint and then we've got Stannard, who when on a great day, is worth a few more. We'll be alright.
"We'll be racing Mark's race in many ways, controlling it to his speed and so there's going to be races within races and it's up to us to manage it from start to finish in a manner that gets the race together in the last kilometre. Even if we're catching people with 500 meters to go as long as we're there with Mark to do his sprint.
"Mine, in many ways, is the easy job. It's managing them and the race situation between teams and staying on top it."
The team's plan - and they have only one - is to deliver Cavendish to the finale. As Brailsford added in the team's press conference, Cavendish is "plan A and all the rest of the alphabet."
Millar, aware of the responsibility added: "If it goes to plan it will be one of the biggest performances we've ever seen in road racing."
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