Wales’ Geraint Thomas pulled off an extra-ordinary comeback, and survived a late race scare to win Sunday’s Men’s Cycling Road Race at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
The 28-year old from Cardiff – fresh (or not quite) off the back of a gruelling Tour de France only four days before Thursday’s Time Trial – suffered adversity twice in a race that was dogged by severe rain showers. But he held on to take victory from New Zealand’s Jack Bauer and England’s Scott Thwaites.
The Isle of Man’s Peter Kennaugh could have been in the mix, if only he had been able to sustain his already mind-blowing 120km solo break. Alas, the Manx rider faded and was hauled in by the peloton after 8 of 12 laps and would eventually finish 8th.
Falling to two minutes behind Kennaugh within the opening 55km, few would have placed Thomas among the potential victors come the end. A slow front wheel change did nothing to dampen the already sodden Welsh contingent – who had John Mould have chain problems off the start.
Kennaugh made his break with 165km remaining – the logic perhaps being that building a lead in treacherous conditions would be easier than chasing hard and risk crashing. Which many did. Guyana’s Raynauth Jeffrey suffered a broken arm after coming off over the increasingly slippery Glasgow surface. He was joined on the sidelines by Time Trial winner Alex Dowsett of England, Scotland’s Andrew Fenn and Isle of Man’s Mark Christian. Many more would abandon but the Glasgow faithful stayed faithful and lined the sides of the road in spite of the, at times, biblical proportions of rain.
And they were right to do so; Kennaugh was mesmerising out in front. Admirably leading and continuing to lead for 120km albeit in the harsh reality, knowing it would no doubt not result in a medal. The chasing peloton, was looking hungrier than ever; licking its lips as it bore down its prey. Still, with four laps left the outcome remained a mystery. Could Kennaugh somehow hang on? How far back was Thomas – who used the previous 68km and countless withdrawals to cling onto the back of the pack –? Could home hero and soon to be ex-professional cyclist David Millar sneak a medal?
Millar, 37 came into the race on the back of a somewhat disappointing Time Trial – finishing 8th – looking for nothing but “pride”. The lack of preparation due to his Tour de France exemption didn’t help and he was struggling to match the pace of the peloton. He would take great credit in finishing his last ever race though, in 11th place. A career that throws up two sides of the coin every time, finished in Glasgow to rapturous applause; something he could have scarcely imagined during his tumultuous two years spent serving a doping ban in the mid-2000s.
The peloton was led for much of the race by the Australian’s. Doing the donkey work at the front for them was Michael Hepburn – who would eventually withdraw too – in an attempt to tee up team-mate Mark Renshaw. Renshaw would finish 5th in the end. Depsite Kennaugh being able to maintain his lead of 1m50s, the chasing pack began to close in dramatically.
By lap 8 and a mere 48km to go and Kennaugh lost 30s to the peloton. The end was nigh for the Manx rider and miraculously things started to look ever more rosy for Geraint Thomas. Yes, the very man who lost a whole two and half minutes early on had moved to the middle of the pack, priming himself for a final attack.
Slowly but very surely, the lead came down, just as the crowd levels at Glasgow Green were going up. Sensing the completion with just 11km remaining, it was Thomas who made a sensational breakaway and left the peloton for dead. Speaking afterwards, the Welshman said: “The guys behind are fast and I have no acceleration. I needed to go early”. It worked too. Building up a healthy 20s lead, it looked for all money like the Gold medal for Wales. But as luck would have it on a typical dreich summers day in the host city, misfortune would strike once more. A puncture, with only 6km to go, cast more doubt and Thomas must have held his breath for the painstaking amount of time his wheel seemed to get replaced – or not as it transpired: “I can’t tell you what I said”, speaking with the Guardian post-race with a wry smile.
Luckily for Thomas though, the repair was completed in time and he had enough juice left to break away once more. He held onto the victory that seemed to want to escape at every turn – a victory that was thoroughly well deserved. “I’m just so proud. I never really expected to medal, if I’m honest”, Thomas told the Guardian.
Kiwi Jack Bauer out-sprinted England’s Scott Thwaites to the line to take Silver as the skies naturally opened to sunshine and warmth at the completion of an enthralling Road Race on the final day of competition at the Games.
Quotes: The Guardian