Comment: With every race carrying the expectation of a British victory, it’s easy to forget what has been achieved

Such is Great Britain’s cycling success, that any race involving a British cyclist now carries the expectation of a victory. So it came as a major disappointment to many that no British rider made it to the finish line of the elite men’s road race at the World Championships on Sunday, let alone earn the right to wear the stripy jumper.

When the GB line-up for the men’s road race was revealed by British Cycling, that pre-race expectation had solid foundations: two Tour de France winners, Olympic champions, British champions, Grand Tour stage winners… it was, without doubt, the most successful collection of riders ever fielded by Britain.

But the World Championship is not a predictable race. The long 272km route and climb-filled circuit around Florence was designed to whittle down the field so that only the best survived – a course worthy of defining a world champion. The task set in the hands of the riders was made even more difficult by torrential rain and slick roads.

Road racing is a unique sport in that a team works for an individual winner. You could fairly argue that any nation that finishes a World Championship with its entire team intact probably hasn’t worked hard enough. For those countries lucky enough to gain six or more places for the Worlds – the maximum was nine – then they are going to pick team workers as well as potential winner. Those workers will do their job and peel off.

Froome was the nominated leader, although he only ranked himself as an outside bet for the win. The climbs were too short and too frequent for the wiry 2013 Tour winner to make his mark, favouring a more punchy rider with an explosive attacking style. Why, then, did we see the team of an outsider take to the front of the peloton for much of its journey from the start in Lucca to the start of ten laps of the finishing circuit? Mark Cavendish and Luke Rowe guided the race for much of the opening 100km before the first of those ten circuits and it looked like Britain was setting its stall out for something big. We’re Britain, the best cycling nation in the world, and we’re taking control. It looked convincing and expectation grew.

Cavendish, his work done, and Bradley Wiggins (pictured right) were the first to drop out. Time trial silver medallist Wiggins had said before the race that he was there to support Froome, but was barely visible. Wiggins had temporarily conquered his fear of slippery roads during a wet Tour of Britain where he was willing to ‘put himself in hospital’ to take the victory during the race’s time trial stage, en route to taking the overall win. But here he just looked uncomfortable, as he did during his ill-fated stab at the Giro d’Italia in May.

Rowe also withdrew – no surprise given the last-minute call up to replace Jonathan Tiernan-Locke. Then Steve Cummings was ruled out by a puncture as Geraint Thomas and Ian Stannard – usually the most reliable of workers – lost touch with the front group on the stream of climbs. Twenty-one-year-old Josh Edmondson had been the rider who’d stuck closely to Froome, but he was caught up in a crash that also wiped out Australian hope Cadel Evans.

Froome was isolated, without team-mates and dropped from the front group. Still with around 100km to go he pulled out, convinced that he would not be able to contest the win. What made it worse for the viewing public was that all British riders were out of the race just as it went live on mainstream television. Anyone tuning in to watch Tour de France winners Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins strutting their stuff was instead faced with an explanation by BBC commentator Simon Brotherton that there weren’t any Brits left to watch. You could almost feel the BBC producer’s finger poised over the button to switch to a repeat of Homes Under The Hammer.

It was a far cry from the 2011 road race that Britain controlled from beginning to end, putting Cavendish into the rainbow jersey. But that race in Copenhagen had been ear-marked by British Cycling several years beforehand, with meticulous planning and perfect execution. An in-form Cav was a dead cert for that route, something which was proven. Froome didn’t have that luxury going into this year’s race. He wasn’t really expected to win, and he didn’t.

Us British like to see a plucky trier, and for the entire team – the best team we’ve ever had – to pull out en masse really got people’s backs up. The abuse via social media was as torrential as the downpour in Tuscany that morning. How could the Brits of all people fade in the rain? How could Froome not keep up with the very riders he beat in the Tour de France? Where was the desire, the drive to win? And can Bradley Wiggins hand back his knighthood? Really, several people actually suggested that. Britain’s most successful cyclist in history should have his Sir removed for dropping out of a race. Some had suggested the same when he ‘lost’ the time trial to Tony Martin the previous week.

It’s true, it was a less than great performance all round. But this failure has led, momentarily at least, to an element of fans to forget all that has gone before it. The success of the current crop of British cyclists has hit such highs that something that was once a uniformly regular occurrence – no chance of a British victory – is now seen as a monumental disaster.

Twitter: @NigelWynn

Related links



Chris Froome disappointed with World Champs performance

  • PeterLB

    jonp. What about the 2011 worlds? GB did alright there, didn’t they?

  • jonp

    Disappointing. But lets face it, team sky and therefore team GB haven’t got it together in one day races in their short history. The best in the world at stage racing, middle of the pack for classics racing and of course you need a tour winner in the mould of Lemond, hinault, Roche to challenge in one day races and we just don’t have that rider. Yet.

  • Graeme

    Let`s face it the World Championship road race is a lottery(unless you`re Marianne Vos!) and any number of riders could usually win it on the day. The way though that British TV was building up Froome and the Brits was embarrassing really and showed they have little knowledge of how a race like the World Championship can pan out. They did the same with Cavendish before the Olympic road race(which was always gonna be a lottery) and then couldn`t understand when he didn`t win,or at least go close!
    However the British team`s performance on sunday was pathetic and shambolic. At least SOME of them should have finished. To me it just shows a lack of bottle and willpower,despite the distance and the conditions on the day. This island was built on rain and wind so that shouldn`t be a problem to us. It says something when Italians and Portugese are contesting a finish in those conditions!
    Yes we`ve been massively spoilt the last few years in this country,but those repersenting us last sunday should hang their heads after that ‘performance’ and grow some balls.

  • Samuel Gee

    I’m with the rest of them. Back in the day finishing was a badge of honour. It’s not old fashioned as an idea. My 17 year old son still regards dnf with horror. OK a crash, medical condition, and in amateur races a major mechanical are acceptable but just binning it because it ain’t working out right is pretty poor.

    I mean what would Tom Simpson say to Bradley and Chris about that?

  • Paul B

    I think we all applaud the GB riders for their huge success in recent years and won’t forget that but the World Championship was a farce as far as GB was concerned. I certainly would not have gone out to ride in those conditions but then I’m not a professional racer representing my country. The winner came from Portugal ahead of two Spanish and one Italian rider. Those countries attract UK holiday makers because they have sunshine. If any team should have been at home in the rain it should have been GB!

    Whoever chose the team needs to go back to the drawing board because what was needed were one day hard men (in the mold of Sean Yates or Malcolm Elliott). As has already been mentioned, other Grand Tour riders battled to the end, Wiggins did nothing – he was not going to work for Froome and there did not appear to be any cohesive plan on the road. We had nine riders out there, I think the winner was one of three in the Portugal team. For Froome citing not having team support as the reason he climbed off is just pathetic. I seem to remember a rider from one country being on his own from the off and he finished the race.

    All credit to our riders for what they have achieved in the past but you are only as good as your last result and on Sunday, GB were an embarrassment.

  • Steve Hanscomb

    The riders that I love watching are the exciting, attacking riders such as Rodriguez, Sagan, Cancellara, Gilbert etc. I prefer the classics to the grand tours too, simply because there is no second chance to win. I have never loved a rider simply because he comes from Britain. It’s nice to see Cav and the guys do well, but I enjoy the sport and the hard men in it. This is the trick to enjoying cycling I think and what sets it apart from the other sports followed in this country, such as football and rugby, where the team is everything. I know cycling is a team sport too, but for me it’s not a national thing. I still enjoy a good race, whoever’s at the front at the end.

  • adam

    I too am disappointed, but as the article suggests maybe that’s because of the past few years of success? The Worlds always has a high drop out rate. I mostly agree with a lot of the above but I am also wondering about the route cycling fandom is going in the UK.
    Look at the disgrace that is football these days. Managers get about five minutes to win or they’re out on their heels. It seems people can only process ‘win or else you must be s***e’. Surely there’s a lot in the middle? Surely we as fans of the sport have some memory of May, June, July when these guys are winning (and winning big). I’m not saying we should make excuses for bad performances but rather that we shouldn’t let the mainstream media dictate the way we think about our sport. (Perhaps this is another change: the shift from loving cycling and admiring all sorts of riders to very strong team fandom… as witnessed in the vitriolic abuse on some forums).

  • Colin Beer

    So we didn’t win the Worlds this year. Get over it. Great Britain are hardly the only nation feeling aggrieved. Italy put in a lot of work at the front and failed to medal in their home championships. Spain threw away the gold in the finale when it should have been nailed on. Belgium, Switzerland and Slovakia all had favourites that didn’t get over the final climb when it mattered. Name any other country and examine whether they were pleased with their result. Only the eventual winner will feel satisfied. The Worlds was a gripping race run off in atrocious weather conditions that made excellent television. Perhaps we should look at the bigger picture and be a little less parochial.

  • Brendan Power

    From what I could see on TV, it was raining at the front as well as the back of the race so that cannot have been the problem. I remember a quote from Tom Simpson where he said the only motivation he needed was to put on the national jersey; what a shame that wasn’t the case with our team on Sunday. Wiggins – because of his fame and his form – was probably the most disappointing, but his attitude towards the race was hardly surprising. Whoever selected him, expecting him to work for Froome, must have believed in miracles.

  • Dabber

    Whilst there might be individual “excuses” the end result of the whole team failing to finish is a disgrace. They were supposed to be there representing their country and, therefore, should have been riding with pride.
    Why put Wiggins in the same team as Froome? It’s clear Wiggins is not going to put their personal differences behind him, even in a WC, and support Froome.
    Cav seems to have ridden with heart and done what was asked of him but… why was the tactic to set the pace on the front at the early part of the race.

  • bladesxl

    Been said before, but it was a lame selection that did us in. Froome shouldn’t have been the leader, since he has no track record in one day races. Should have been Stannard or G as they have our best results in one dayers this year. Ok, they may not have won, but they could have probably stuck with the Gilberts, Cancellaras, Sagans, etc.

    Kennaugh not being selected was just a total mystery and Millar should have been there too for leadership. Even though Cav and Luke did “ok” I still think that they shouldn’t have been selected, as the course clearly wasn’t suited to them.

    Wiggo is clearly in a fragile mind-frame and should have probably just been allowed to do the ITT and then go home.

  • Alvaro

    I introduce to you brits the brazilian soccer disease.

  • Andy

    Who was actually GBs road captain? No visible team leadership out there to keep them together & focussed. Missing David Millar, for sure.

  • Richard S

    As much as I like Wiggins he is a tart. How the man can live in Lancashire and not be able to ride in the rain is a mystery. Maybe Froome after winning the Tour and doing not much since was neither in shape or motivated, either way he shouldn’t have been leader. Maybe they should have gone with a motivated strong man, like Stannard or Thomas, who may have had more determination to make the most of one of their few days as a leader.

  • Hugh Anderson

    Here we go another round of excuses for a team with so much money and supposed talent that whenever they do something good,they are great,but when they dont cut it,well the press have made up some good excuses,and expect us to accept it.
    The Italians and Spaniards,and some of them have been in 2 grand tours,manage it so why cant the Brits,dont say they are not used to the weather,less time in Tenerife and more time in the Trossichs would be better.
    What is going on the front of cycling weekly this week,i hope its the winner of the Mens worlds and not another Sky what we will do next year episode.
    Also when are we going to hear something that makes sense from Cycling Weekly commentators,we need people like Alonso,someone to put money into cycling and help this sport,or is it because hes not a Brit.Always look forward to Cycling Weekly though.

  • Ian B

    Utterly pathetic! What other sport in the world sees losing competitors just giving up – because it’s raining? As if the sport hasn’t suffered enough with all those weak characters doping. Rodriguez, Nibali and Uran were fantastic. Wiggins should stick to writing books. I can just see the Knights of old calling off the battle – because it’s raining! Sad, sad, sad!

  • Bobbinogs

    Hard to argue with the comments above. I tuned in just as the BBC coverage started and to be greeted with “the entire GB team have abandoned” after looking forward to this for months was underwhelming to say the least.

    Yes, Team GB have done great things but the WC 2013 goes down as a rotten day at the office where it just appears to the world that it rained a bit so we decided to head for a warm and comfy bus instead of displaying the Dunkirk spirit.

  • Terry Hammond

    No excuses, they bottled it ! It’s a disgrace, I’ve been so proud of their achievements so far but this is a slap in the face for all the loyal fans.
    Credit to Cav and G who rode their hearts out but as for the rest of the ‘names’, shame on you, you’ve let us down.

    I’m now not interested in the rest of the road season, looking forward to the track events for success, especially the girls, and then onto 2014 back on the road.

    I’m seething…………………..

  • Richard Norman

    It is not so much that they didn’t win on Sunday, it was always going to be tough for a bunch of riders in mixed form. It is more the the fact they don’t seem to be bothered unless they are an absolute certainty for a win. It has already been said by many, but the conditions are the same for everyone. To not want to take part because of the weather is an excuse I use to my wife, and I am far from a highly paid and decorated athlete with a country’s expectations on my shoulders.
    I have nothing but respect for what they have all achieved, but are they in danger of becoming overpaid prima-donnas? After all, all the other riders that finished have been subject to a similar if not heavier workload.
    Cycling is enjoying a huge revival and a very high profile, the team on Sunday seemed to have no respect for the thousands that cheer them on, you may not win, but at least try your best.

  • Jon Freeman

    The sport of cycling is built as much on the losers as it is the winners. When a whole national team decides that there is no merit in taking part unless you are going to end up the winner it doesn’t bode well for the future. You need to learn lessons from being there and finishing thirtieth so that next time you might figure out how to finish 20th etc. Winning the tour doesn’t qualify you to consider yourself sufficiently prepared or experienced enough for every other race.

  • Irontwit

    Poor effort. Clearly the Team Sky bus is way too luxurious for these pampered stars and they couldn’t wait to climb in. Get a transit. No hunger, no desire.

  • Ken Evans

    The old team-kit design was much more successful ! Why was it changed ? (Sponsors ??)

  • all mac

    The key word here was TEAM and team was what was missing on that ride. Cav has the biggest heart but one man doesn’t make a team no matter how good. The obvious dislike between Froome and Wiggo is palatable making for unlikely teamwork and fractions within the unit ..management need to be looked at also pretty obvious to most of us on the outside that those two would never work for each other ever again after Froome deliberately left Wiggo on that ascent last year

  • Mal Pearson

    Rod Ellingworth has publicly laid into the team for their seeming lack of desire, but is it not he who selects the riders, and decides the race strategy? It was fairly clear that the course did not suit the strengths of any of the GB riders, and Froome was being realistic in regarding himself as an outside bet at best. So for Thomas, for example, to talk as he did before the event was only going to raise expectations that that were not sustainable. Some of the team sufferred bad luck, and two were young and inexperienced at this level.

    However, people’s disappointment with Wiggins is understandable, a gallant loser is one thing, but a quitter is another, and to many he will have looked more like the latter than the former on Sunday. That said, some of the comments made on social media and other news sites have been frankly plain silly.

  • gg/gg

    For a team with such credentials lining up and behaving like a second division team at the start trying to ride the opposition off in the 100km, didn’t do justice to the jersey’s they won in the past. The management needs to be looked at regarding tactics

  • J Dunn

    Hold on. The selection at the end of the race were all the types of guys Froome battles with quite happily in big stage races; Rodriguez, Nibali, Rui Costa, Uran. He was an outsider but with form he was surely a contender.

    There are valid excuses from some (Cav is over-raced and did his best, as did Rowe) but there was a sense that the GB team just wasn’t up for its as a team. They have been brilliant but on Sunday they looked like a collection of strangers.

  • colnago dave

    So why put all our efforts behind Froome, it was a crazy strategy from the word go. The worlds favours strong classic riders not mountain goats like Froome.

    Wiggins and Froome prepared meticulously for the tour and it showed, but how often did you see their noses in the wind on the flat stages ?

  • Andrew Lloyd

    This excuse, for excuse it is, won’t wash. When their coach Rod Ellingworth is berating his charges in public you know that something is wrong. Our biggest names (Wiggins and Froome) basically used the excuse that it was raining which is “not their scene” as the reason why they could not properly compete in what is, after all, the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP race. Now conditions were truly atrocious but this didn’t stop Purito Rodriguez contesting the win. It didn’t stop Nibali, who crashed within 50kms of the finish, from contesting the win. It gives off the air of pampered prima donnas and, in Wiggins case, of a rider who thinks he’s done enough now and can ease off the gas. I can only hope that the Team GB staff don’t let their charges get off with the excuses so easily.