Dave Brailsford likes to term July the "pointy end" of the cycling season, and in 2012 the pointy bit is as spiky as Everest, with just five clear days between the finish of the Tour de France and the opening cycling event, the men's elite road race. Managing the transition between the world's greatest bike race and the biggest sports event ever to hit Britain will be key to medal success in the men's road race and time trial, but as ever with Brailsford and his cohorts, plenty of thought has gone into it.
On Sunday night, as the champagne bottles were gathered up and the sun set on the Champs Elysées, the men's road race team went in three directions. Brailsford, Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish boarded a late-evening flight to Luton together with Rod Ellingworth, the coach who masterminded Mark Cavendish's world road race win as part of the building process towards London 2012. And as early as Monday afternoon, Ellingworth was accompanying Froome on his first training ride of the week on the Box Hill course. With the usual attention to detail, the beds that Froome and Cavendish had slept in in France on Saturday were trucked up to Surrey to be waiting at the hotel for them when they checked in at 1130 on Sunday night.
The quartet travelled to the men's team's hotel in Surrey, where they will be joined later this week by the Tour winner Bradley Wiggins, who flew out of Paris on Sunday to north-west England to spend a couple of days with his family, and David Millar, who was staying on in Paris for Sunday night with his wife and child. Ian Stannard, the fifth team member, was already in Britain having finished the Tour of Poland six days before the end of the Tour de France, and will join the team on Wednesday. Three riders, Ben Swift, Steve Cummings, and Jeremy Hunt, remain on call as reserves in case of injury or illness to one of the selected five.
"The guys had the option of going home [after the Tour] or coming to the hotel and bringing their families along," said Ellingworth. "This week is about managing the fatigue after the Tour, there no hard and fast plans. If one guy wants a day off the bike, he can have it, if another wants a four-hour ride we discuss why he wants it and then he does it. No one will be shutting down completely, that's the key thing."
The aim is to manage the delicate balance between recovering from the effort of the Tour while retaining the fitness that builds as the body adapts to the three-week race's demands.
For the layman, the concept of racing again so soon after the Tour might seem bizarre. To a professional cyclist it is luxury. Many of the French cyclists who finished the Tour were racing the day after, in the traditional post-Tour Criterium at Lisieux, while for the Low Countries pros there are events in Holland immediately after the Tour. The criteriums are "only" 80-100km, but the first full-length race after the Tour is usually the San Sebastián Classic, the following Saturday.
As Brailsford said before the Tour finished: "The difference between professional cyclists and most other athletes is that the week after the Tour de France they will normally be riding anyway." The Olympic road race, will, says the performance director, be "business as usual. It's another bike race, different, [but] just another bike race."
Wiggins added: "An Olympic athlete can't envisage doing the Tour de France 10 days before the biggest race of their life, a marathon or whatever, but racing is what we do, and we do so many during the year that having nine days between the Tour and the time trial is like having a holiday.
"Physically, nothing changes – if I did that time trial [on Saturday] in nine days' time, I'm going to be in the ball park. It's just what changes mentally in that time and I think that's what I've really strengthened over the last few years."
Wiggins is clearly fresh and ready for the task of devoting himself to Cavendish this Saturday, as his two searing leadouts on Friday and Sunday showed, not to mention the devastating performance in the 53.5km time trial on the Saturday. That is to be expected: a Tour winner is, by definition, the rider among the 198 starters who copes best with the workload over the three weeks. Precisely the same argument applied to the Tour's second finisher Froome, who came second to Wiggins in the time trial on Saturday.
But there were plenty of encouraging signs for Ellingworth among his four other charges. Cavendish, the team's designated leader, won two of the last three stages of the Tour, confirming that, after a tough middle week, he too had finished the race in something close to his best condition. The speed with which he came past the leading riders to win in Friday's uphill stage finish was as much an indicator of his building form as his victory – taken after starting his sprint early than he would usually do – on the Champs Elysées.
Among the breakaway riders who were mopped up in the closing kilometres was David Millar, no less, who had already won a stage in the Tour and put in an impressive burst of speed as the bunch closed on the escapees, as if to show Ellingworth – watching the race on TV at the stage finish – that he too was in great shape. And Stannard, the only one of the quintet not to race in France, had ridden strongly in Poland in support of the Sky sprinter Ben Swift – unlucky not to make the Olympic team on either road or track – and the team's Columbian prospect Sergio Henao.
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