Swiss star Fabian Cancellara became the first four-time men's world champion in the elite ranks on Thursday with a thoroughly dominant performance. Cancellara finished over a minute ahead of Great Britain's David Millar, with Tony Martin (Germany) pulling off an impressive bronze medal ride despite puncturing.
The elite men had to cover two laps of a 22.8 kilometre circuit that included two climbs per lap and a difficult descent. Unlike the U23 Men and elite women, however, they did not face rain and gusting wind.
The riders were sent off in four waves, with Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spain) setting the top time in the first group. His stay in the hot seat lasted until halfway through the second wave, when Maciej Bodnar (Poland) knocked nearly 42 seconds off the leading time.
Bodnar's time would be good enough for ninth, but faster riders were starting in the third wave, with one of the local Australian favourites, Michael Rogers, last to start in the group. Rogers came close to breaking the one hour mark, and would take the hot seat until the final five riders started to come in. He would eventually finish a solid fifth.
In the final wave, some of the top contenders struggled, including 2008 world champion Bert Grabsch (Germany) and Canada's Svein Tuft. Koos Moerenhout (Netherlands) came close to Rogers, and David Zabriskie finished eighth, despite almost missing his start when the U.S. team showed up for the bike check barely a minute before his start. The American was getting visibly agitated as the clock ticked down to 20 seconds and no bike appeared. He finally got clipped in with about 10 seconds to go.
Millar was fifth from the end, and he started very strongly, setting the fastest opening split, 6.5 seconds ahead of Cancellara. He continued to ride strongly through the rest of the race and become the first rider to crack the one hour mark with a finishing time of 59:11.94.
The Olympic sliver medalist, Gustav Larsson (Sweden) followed, but was never in contention. Tony Martin was next, and was only ten seconds back until a front-wheel puncture late in the first lap slowed him. An impressive final eight-kilometre run saw him pull back 20 seconds on Millar, and move into third. He finished less than ten seconds down on the British rider, so the flat may have meant the difference between bronze and silver.
Martin displaced Australian Richie Porte for the final podium spot, as the pair of young riders battled back and forth, each finishing a shade under the hour. However, the battle for the gold medal was over halfway through the first lap, as the defending world champion pegged back Millar's lead and then inexorably began to pull away.
After 14.7 kilometres he was one second up on Millar, after a full lap it was 11seconds, then 24 seconds, 44 seconds and, finally, over a minute. Once again, Spartacus had decisively answered the question of who is the top man in the race of truth.
The hardest-earned rainbow jersey
"Yeah, I am really happy," Cancellara said afterwards. "I think this might be the hardest one of all the four [wins]. To come here and not be 100% was difficult, but since the Vuelta I started to be really focused on everything I could in order to be 100% for this day and to do whatever I could, which was a 100% performance. This was a really, really hard parcours that, from the beginning, I didn't really expect would be so hard.
"I've learnt a lot from the other years that when people say, 'it looks like this, or that' [that] only when you see it for real you can then say how it really is. Tony [Martin] said before that he also expected a different parcours, so it was the same for everybody, and I did what I had to do, which was to ride 100% perfect. I did a great tactic in not riding too fast in the beginning, because I knew in the end it would be really really hard with the wind and these two climbs.
"It is never easy. People think you can ride with one leg and win easily always, but it is never easy to win bike races. Even when people expect that 'any way, Cancellara is going to win' it is never true. There are always riders that keep going and trying and become a star, and beat me and I have seen also when I came here I have not the same power inside my body. When you win three times already and you come close to four times I had to find another motivation. Today, this motivation was to make history. That was actually the big strength that kept me focused on it. My season is already perfect with the spring and the Tour and now with this victory today. But you can have ups and downs - nobody is perfect - sometimes you can have a bad day. That is part of a human being.
"This was the hardest for sure. I was pretty nervous yesterday, the other day, and this morning, because I have high ambitions on my own and expectations of my own," Cancellara said. "I wasn't 100% for these conditions but sometimes it is not so important to be 100%. To be 100% and make mistakes or not be 100% and make things right from the focus. I pulled out of the Vuelta to focus on this and relax at home before coming to Australia. It is a long travel and takes many days to recover from this jetlag. I think I am getting over that now, and I am really happy to have done what I did today."
For his part, David Millar was content with silver, commenting, "Congratulations to Fabian first. There is no doubt he is a phenomenon. But I came here hoping to get on the podium and that's what I did, so it is a lovely feeling to be actually achieve the objective I was aiming for.
"I felt good. I felt great on the first lap. My tactic was the opposite of Fabian's, it was to attack the first lap and then hang on for dear life. And that's basically what I did. I felt great and even at the first lap with the three climbs, by the end of the last climb I was coming up that the first time and I thought, 'Oh god this is going to hurt the next time round', and it did. It was very hard and I think we can safely say that in the road race that is going to be a hard climb. We suffered enormously just going up it twice. It is a hard course.
"I went a bit slow through a couple of corners, especially on the descent, but I am very happy with my ride. My power was good, everything was good. Unfortunately, I just need to be going faster and stronger to beat Fabian. And corner faster. But I am pleased with my ride and there is nothing I would change about it."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)||0:58:09|
|2||David Millar (Great Britain)||0:01:02|
|3||Tony Martin (Germany)||0:01:12|
|4||Richie Porte (Australia)||0:01:19|
|5||Michael Rogers (Australia)||0:02:25|
|6||Koos Moerenhout (Netherlands)||0:02:40|
|7||Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spain)||0:02:44|
|8||David Zabriskie (United States Of America)||0:02:51|
|9||Maciej Bodnar (Poland)||0:03:00|
|10||Gustav Larsson (Sweden)||0:03:01|
|11||Bert Grabsch (Germany)||0:03:06|
|12||Ignatas Konovalovas (Lithuania)||0:03:07|
|13||Vladimir Gusev (Russian Federation)||0:03:27|
|14||Carlos Oyarzun (Chile)||0:03:30|
|15||Nicolas Vogondy (France)||0:03:39|
|16||Andriy Grivko (Ukraine)||0:03:40|
|17||José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spain)||0:03:42|
|18||Alex Rasmussen (Denmark)||0:03:45|
|19||Sylvain Chavanel (France)||0:04:00|
|20||Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia)||0:04:04|
|21||Artem Ovechkin (Russian Federation)||0:04:07|
|22||Dmitriy Fofonov (Kazakhstan)||0:04:11|
|23||Jack Bauer (New Zealand)||0:04:17|
|24||Tejay Van Garderen (United States Of America)||0:04:41|
|25||David Mccann (Ireland)||0:04:52|
|26||Svein Tuft (Canada)||0:04:55|
|27||Martin Velits (Slovakia)||0:05:00|
|28||Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia)||0:05:15|
|29||Matias Medici (Argentina)||0:05:17|
|30||Kanstantin Siutsou (Belarus)||0:05:23|
|31||Michael Morkov (Denmark)||0:05:24|
|32||Peter Velits (Slovakia)||0:05:26|
|33||Tanel Kangert (Estonia)||0:05:30|
|34||Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan)||0:05:33|
|35||Dominique Cornu (Belgium)||0:05:36|
|36||Jos Van Emden (Netherlands)||0:05:47|
|37||Jay Robert Thomson (South Africa)||0:06:59|
|38||Jaroslaw Marycz (Poland)||0:07:24|
|39||Gordon Mccauley (New Zealand)||0:07:46|
|40||Esad Hasanovic (Serbia)||0:09:02|
|41||Reginald Douglas (Saint Kitts and Nevis)||0:22:51|
|42||James Weekes (Saint Kitts and Nevis)||0:23:49|