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July 29, 2012 / ultrafox1963

How cycling is becoming the new football

Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov clinches cycling gold at London 2012

The heroes of the Tour de France may have foresworn alcohol during the past week. But they suffered the effects of a hangover anyway.

Yesterday’s Olympic cycling road race, for which Britain’s Mark Cavendish started as hot favourite, attracted huge crowds to Central London. Some estimates put the turnout at over a million.

The scene was literally set fair for the Isle of Man-based rider, winner of two of the Tour’s last three stages earlier this month, to clinch the gold medal that had eluded him in Beijing four years ago. Tour winner (and fellow national hero) Bradley Wiggins spoke of “payback time”.

Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson joined fellow dignitaries at the finishing line in the Mall, ready and eager to share in Team GB’s glory. The possibility of failure was not contemplated for one moment, either among the legions of fans or the scribes who awaited Cavendish’s arrival in expectation.

However, not for the first time in recent British sporting history, the gap between hype and reality proved to be substantial.

The rest of the 144-strong field stubbornly refused to accept the supporting role that many had prematurely assigned to them. Cavendish was caught by a late breakaway during the 250km race and eventually finished in 29th place, with his team-mates trailing even further back, and Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov clinching the crown.

The bitterness Cavendish clearly felt in the immediate aftermath of defeat was evident in his post-race clashes with sections of the media and attacks on the “negativity” of rival teams. But given that he and his team-mates had successfully overcome similar tactics, often in far more hostile conditions, during the course of the Tour, it was little surprise that some analysts sought to offer other reasons for the setback.

However, if the vitriolic response to some reasoned and coherent criticism on the BBC Sport website is anything to go by, the status of Cavendish and his team-mates remains undimmed by the defeat.

In recent years, with considerable backing from Sky TV and others, cycling has emerged from the shadows to establish a profile which would have been unimaginable a decade or so ago.

Its main protagonists, such as Cavendish, Wiggins, Sir Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, are household names, handsomely rewarded and even revered. Yet not all of them have appeared entirely comfortable when subjected to the limelight and scrutiny that has become routinely accepted at the highest levels in other sports.

As many footballers and managers, both past and present, will be all too ready to confirm, the British media has a long and inglorious history of demonising heroes almost as soon as they are created.

Indeed, some sections appear more comfortable basking in the self-righteous glows of failure than in celebrating the fruits of success. They relish nothing more than revelling in collective local and national disappointment, and brutally disparaging those deemed as failing to fulfil expectations.

Whatever happens during the next two weeks, it is to be hoped that the top cyclists avoid that fate.




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