Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Lance Armstrong... Guilty??

By refusing to mount a defence in the US Anti-Doping Agency's case against him, Lance Armstrong has – whatever equivocation and claims of persecution he persists in – all but conceded that he won his seven Tour de France titles by doping.

And by walking away from a defence, he has ceded those yellow jerseys and lost his status as the most remarkable serial winner in the history of the sport.

There may be some small fraternity of true believers who still need the master-narrative of the heroic cancer survivor-turned-sports superstar, who still cling to a conviction that he could have beaten the rap if the world had not conspired against him.

Armstrong's statement repeats a familiar litany of disingenuous indignation – his record of wins, a lack of physical evidence, the "nonsense" of this "witch-hunt" and so on – but by this decision, Armstrong has excommunicated himself from the Church of Lance: he no longer believes in the plausibility of his own denials. The aggression that kept accusers in check and witnesses silent for so long has been replaced by weariness and resignation.

"There comes a point in every man's life when he has to say, 'Enough is enough.' For me, that time is now," his statement reads.

Yet even a dope cheat still needs to be a master tactician to win the Tour de France: if Armstrong decided to quit the fight it was because this was the least worst option remaining to him. This pre-emptive retreat allows him to avoid the formal process of prosecution and conviction, and the humiliation that would have gone along with that. Perhaps his Livestrong foundation, and what remains of his tarnished brand, can thus survive in some netherworld of unreason.

Where does that leave cycling? With many unresolved questions. We may never know who were all the former team-mates of Armstrong that USADA had ready to testify against him about the years of EPO use, steroids, blood-doping techniques and whatever else that delivered that unbroken string of Tour victories, though we can guess at their identities.

And we will have to wait and see whether Armstrong's longtime team manager, Johan Bruyneel, will attempt a defence, though the percentage must be in his folding quietly and taking a ban.

We may never finally know what deals were done to hush up the alleged positive tests Armstrong gave, though we have our suspicions. And we can only wonder who might now be deemed to have won the Tour de France from 1999 to 2005, though we must assume that the Tour authorities would rather award no result than attempt the fool's errand of seeking retrospectively a clean cyclist in the top 10 of any of those years.

Better to look forward and learn. There is no doubt that the anti-doping agencies have won the upper hand since Lance Armstrong's heyday in the fight to rid the sport of performance-enhancing drugs.

Many do still cheat, though they are fewer and more are caught. Teams keep sponsors by staying clean; they lose them when riders are discovered doping. The governing body, the UCI, has abandoned its shameful connivance of the EPO era. But there's no reason for complacency. It will only take a tangential advance in medical science for some new substance to become available for which there is no test; then the cheats will be ahead in the pharmacological arms race once more.

The most important lesson of the Lance Armstrong story, though, is the hardest to prepare for and guard against: our own gullibility and willing complicity. What is astounding and disturbing is that one man – a dominant personality as well as a dominant athlete – was able to enforce his will, isolate, bully and silence his doubters and critics, and win the world's top cycling event year after year and make people believe in him, despite there being, apparently, dozens of witnesses to its utter phoniness.

Too many people had too much invested in the Lance Armstrong story, and the power of persuasion followed the money.

The moral of the story is that if a cyclist looks too good to be true, then he probably is. But if a cyclist looks too good to be true and has an entourage of lawyers, press flaks, doctors and bodyguards, then he definitely is.

The above article appeared in the Guardian - I do not necessarily agree with the comments - however, I have taken Lance's poster down from my bedroom wall.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Summer warmth....

Have you noticed how warm it has been lately? It crept up on me really, I had given up on summer for this year, then it was here, clingly and claggy and sticky. The conker trees are in fruit - won't be long now before we can string up a couple and have a few games. Conkers are just beautiful fresh from the shell, unbelievably shiny and new.

Cycling down familiar lanes there is a canopy of branches and leaves that seem stitched together, closer and closer - the result is an almost tent-like roof effect overhead. This living green shuts out the light and creates a tunnel like experience for a few hundred yards. There are foxgloves in the hedgerows and willow-herb, growing together in erect close masses of pale strawberry colour. I pause at a farm gate and climb off the bike - I just want to look around for a few moments, although I haven't been riding particularly hard or fast, I have worked up a considerable sweat. I take off my helmet, hang it from the handlebars and enjoy a few long draughts from my water bottle. I notice goose grass growing in the verges near the gate, I smile, that plant provided much amusement to me years ago as I threw it onto my brothers back.

I mount the bike and move on - no rush though - this is a slow, gentle ride. As I pass through a small village the church bell tolls - the vicar has arrived for evensong, there is a cricket match taking place, I pause to watch, a breathless hush, the field is full of shade, the aroma of leather, mown grass, linseed oil and egg sandwiches. The batsman strikes the ball cleanly and the handful of spectators acknowledge with a few lazy handclaps. And I set off for home as another working Monday arrives on the radar.

As I ride along ancient lanes it seems the past is still reachable, the soft rolling contours, the gnarled, twisted trees and the signs that indicate I'm close to a battlefield - just under my wheels there must be things...... artefacts, bones, the evidence of the past and of man's inhumanity. I wonder if anyone from those times would recognise the landscape now - how different is it some 500 years later?

Sunday, 19 August 2012


The thing about taking a holiday in this country is that you must be prepared to accept the vagaries of the English weather. Generally speaking I've always had the most fortunate good luck in this respect - whenever I go away I know the weather will, at worst, be okay, but mostly I seem to attract fine, sunny days.

Unfortunately that winning streak ended last week with operatic calamity. A week camping in North Devon on an exposed campsite, with gale force winds, thunder, lightening, a mini-tornado and rats left me shell-shocked to say the least. The night was worst - a repetitive heaving, buffeting, slapping and flapping when the tent felt like it was shortly to launch itself skyward made sleep uncomfortable and at times impossible. It was a shame really, because here is a part of Britain that is nationally protected for the beauty of its landscape. 171sq km of coastal landscape stretching from Marsland Mouth on the Cornish border to Coombe Martin on the boundary of the Exmoor National Park.
The hire bike

I hired a bike. I wasn't able to transport one of my own - I picked up a heavy, steel hybrid from Otter Cycles in Braunton - I chatted to the Scotsman who runs the business, he was truing wheels out in the yard making the most of the warm sunshine. "I've been here since 1970" he said "Worst year I've ever known" I was unsure if he meant because of the weather or the trade "Both" he elucidated.

Despite the scary, apocalyptic nights in the tent - daytime was mainly okay - and we spent time on the beach, building sandcastles, bodyboards in the surf etc - I cycled around the lanes comparing them to the ones I'm used to back home. They are steeper. And narrower. The hedges are higher - and sometimes lower. The flowers are prettier and the sea is never far away - every now and then I would get a tantalising glimpse between trees or hedges - a rolling sheet of shimmering jewels glistening and tempting. But the hills - wow - they are steep. Signs for 25% gradients are common - nasty grinding tracks that heave and push their way up from the coast to the green hills, tense and taunt like wiry veins and each full of walkers and cyclists. Tackling such roads on the hire bike was foolish - even though the bike seemed in good order the gearing wasn't particularly 'full' - I decided I wouldn't be able to get up the steeper climbs and so opted for the easier 15 and 20% routes instead.

After a few miles I felt sick. The heat was unbearable - I was melting - didn't remember hearing anything about a heatwave on the weather forecast? - I soldiered on - and up. Over fords, up tracks with more grass than concrete, over a packhorse bridge, a stile, through the grounds of a firestation... the route was varied and interesting - it would have been much easier on my own bike - but by now I was enjoying the scenery and I'd found a rhythm which was slow but constant.

I came across a fierce track that descended the hill more or less vertically. There was a Mountain Bike Club here, they seemed to be practising being organ donors - each would line up and then launch themselves down the track. I stopped to watch and chat. They talked about accidents with a cheery bloodthirstyness, the way I imagine big game hunters might talk about lion attacks or hippo bites. "We had one kid who went down safely" I was told "Then his Dad followed, hell for leather, came to a jump, lost his nerve, slammed on the brakes, fell on his head. Now he comes to watch in a wheelchair"

I moved off at a sedate pace - cycling is dangerous enough on the roads - I'm not at all interested in hurtling down mountain sides thank you very much. In a short while I arrive at a clearing - there are picnic tables and holiday sized litter bins, and stone slabs for portable barbeques and a cafe for those who can't be bothered or forgot to bring their own. There's a souvenir shop selling clotted cream shortbreads with a dollop of strawberry jam in the middle and glossaries of the local dialect. On the grass a group of pensioners on folding chairs drink wine from plastic wine glasses and help each other with sodoku and crosswords. A group of young people are getting slowly sozzled, laughing and hugging each other. A father throws a ball to his son, another son climbs onto and jumps off a big old stump. People prod sausages and lick ice-creams and a pair of riders walk their horses into the stream. The land lays itself out in the last, soft, warm light of day - like a lush and gorgeous nude, perfectly aware of its own allure and power, the curving secret body reclining under the green mantle of trees.

Friday, 10 August 2012


It was an early start. Up at 6.00am and immediately eat a bowl of pasta made the night before. Then get the bike out, check the tyres, pick up an extra spare inner-tube and make sure a waterproof is packed. Gary would be here at about 7.00 and we are riding to Skegness - a seaside resort in Lincolnshire on the East coast, around 100 miles away.

There was a gentle breeze as we set off, but it was generally warm as we made our way uphill from Thorton to Markfield and then on through some remarkably pretty villages - lots of thatched cottages, a nice restaurant, moon daisies like milk along the verges, and meadowsweet, like the cream of summer, the musty, sweet softness of earth and wood. We went on through Rothley and Cossington and made our way into Melton Mowbray.

Home of the eponymous pork-pie and one of the six homes of Stilton cheese, this is an interesting area. In and around Melton there are 28 scheduled ancient monuments, 705 listed buildings, 16 sites of special scientific interest and several deserted village sites. The day had developed into one of calm warmth. The roads were flat now, and smooth. We were moving like proper cyclists - 23mph for long extended periods. We must have averaged 20mph for 10 miles easily. We passed through a village that was one of those golf-club and ornamental willow affairs - Jags and water features. You could tell it was posh - the 'A' board outside the pub advertised 'Thursday night is Lobster night'

From Melton Mowbray we head out towards Bourne - more easy-going roads, surprisingly smooth, even and flat - ideal really and we made good progress, no headwinds, good weather, mostly sunny - the day was developing into one of supreme enjoyment - everything was going so well. We stopped for a drink and saw the first cyclist of the day. An oldish guy riding a Bianchi bike - moving steadily and smoothly, fast but relaxed. We set off to catch him - this proved more difficult than I first thought - he was probably travelling at the same speed as us - but by the time we got going he was a good 800 metres ahead - we needed to work hard to make up that gap - it was a tough ten minutes of 24mph as we gradually closed in on him - creeping ever nearer as he held his pace. Finally we were on him - and then he turned off!! - heading in a different direction.

We circumnavigated Spalding and approached Boston - the traffic was heavy and slow as we weaved between cars in a tailback of maybe a mile. It was a good feeling zipping past them as they sat, frustrated, waiting their turn to pass through traffic lights around a series of road works. We somehow took a wrong turn at Boston, taking the A16 instead of the A52 - we moved steadily up to Stickney and made a right turn through fenland to Eastville on the way to Wainfleet St Mary and the A52. At this point the road was dirty, rough, broken and to make things worse we encountered thunder and lightening, we donned our waterproofs but for 20 minutes we cycled through some horrible weather.

Then it brightened up again, as we reached Skegness itself. It's a weird place - ram-jammed with red -faced, beery-breathed people - an awful, ugly collection of tattoos, nylon, grease and giro-culture. As we sat at the clock surveying an endless procession of characters from Little Britain it occurred to me that I don't think I've ever seen so many chip shops in one place - literally every shop along the seafront teamed with people stocking up with kebabs, chips and curry sauce. It was like visiting an open audition to the Jeremy kyle Show. I was glad to wave it all goodbye and head for home.

Then it struck me, Skegness should have held the alternative to the Olympics. It would be The Drunk Olympics. There'd be drunken men running down the street, with struggling determination to stay upright. In some cases events might be improved. The intricate interweaving of the track events. The hint of danger in the javelin and hammer. The sheer aerial poetry of the long jump. The intriguing unpredictability of the weightlifting. The cruel beauty of the high diving - Cycling would be the great leveller - literally as contestants tumble to the ground. Urine samples would be more than generous - what could go wrong?

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Pride and Hoy.....

It's been difficult to keep up, records being broken pretty much everytime a team GB cyclist rides an event. But last night, as the Olympic track cycling came to its close we witnessed something extra special, poignant and so, so moving.

Sir Chris Hoy became Britain's most golden Olympian in sensational style, storming to victory in the keiran event before a baying 6000 crowd in the velodrome. His latest win took Team GB's gold medal tally to 22 - the most since 1908.

Another 15million watched on TV as Sir Chris claimed his sixth Olympic gold - one more than rower Sir Steve Redgrave. Chants of 'Hoy, Hoy, Hoy' rang out as he punched the air and acknowledged supporters including Prince William, Prince Harry, Princess Anne and Lord Coe.

Shedding tears as the national anthem played, the Scot said "I'm in shock - I wanted to win gold in front of my home crowd and thankfully it worked out" - Ah bless, I for one couldn't help shedding a tear too - I like Chris Hoy - he seems a good bloke.

Hoy became a member of the national squad in 1996 and won his first World Championship medal in 1999. He has since won 11 world and 2 Commonwealth titles. He won his first Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 in the kilo event, he went on to specialise in other disciplines after the kilo was dropped from the schedule for Bejing in 2008. He rode the keirin, the sprint and the team sprint at Bejing and won gold in all three - in doing so he became the first Briton since 1908 to win three gold medals in a single Olympic games. He was voted sports personality of the year 2008 and was awarded a knighthood in the 2009 New Year Honours list. The velodrome for the 2014 Commonwealth games has been named after him.

It is about the team, the technology, the wheels, the preparation, the numbers, the thousand tiny pieces of analysis and insight that go into making an Olympic champion - yet it is also about the man. One incredible man. One man and his unending thirst for success. One man who refuses to be beaten. A six-time Olympic Gold Medallist called Christopher Andrew Hoy. The men and women of Great Britain Track Cycling formed a guard of honour around him when his bike finally slowed down to a halt at the velodrome, and they crowded into the podium area when he stood, head down, humbled, to receive his medal. It was a truly inspiring moment.

French letter...

In ascending order of unbearableness, the French sports fan’s greatest nightmares are losing the Tour de France, losing it to a foreigner, and losing it to a skinny bloke with sideboards known to his friends in Chorley, Lancashire, as “Wiggo”. That an English rider actually won the Tour for the first time in its 109-year history is not just a particular humiliation for the hosts, but confirmation of a power shift that has been emerging for some time.

The British are moving up the field as one of the world’s cycling-mad nations. Success in the Olympic VeloPark and the women's road race event, plus Wiggo's outstanding time trial effort have added to the impetus. For decades the jibes have been flying across the Channel. The French would claim that our cycling talents peaked with Raleigh-mounted midwives, while our chaps scoffed that the most common banned substances among the French teams were soap, deodorant and toothpaste. Behind the sparring, a horrible truth was emerging. Victory by 32-year-old Bradley Wiggins in The Tour made it irrefutable. Wiggo clobbered them on the climbs, flayed them on the flat and drubbed them on the descents. Not only that, but he has given the Tour a lesson in sporting manners. When a rogue spectator scattered tacks in the road, causing a group of leading riders to suffer punctures, Wiggo slowed down to let the others catch up, so earning himself the sobriquet “Le Gentleman” in the astonished French newspapers.

Some consolation has been drawn from the discovery that Wiggins was actually born in Belgium and that his father was an Australian, and, therefore – according to the desperate reasoning that characterises French cultural sensitivity – he isn’t quite as English as he could be. But he is English enough for most of us. And his exploits are more English than, perhaps, even the single-minded Bradley knows himself. Over the past 10 years, we have stopped thinking about bicycling as a cheap way to get about, and begun embracing it as a cross between a sport, a lifestyle and a civic responsibility. To all this, Wiggo adds the further whiff of home-grown eccentricity in his role as the world’s foremost – possibly only – sports-god Mod. A collector of vintage scooters and early Who records, he crafted those sideburns in tribute to his hero Paul – “the Modfather” – Weller. “Very few modern-day Mods appear in the public eye, so those that do tend to be over-scrutinised from those within the Mod scene,” says David Walker of the website Modculture. “Wiggins has been under the spotlight for some years now, but there has rarely been a bad word heard about him when it comes to his relationship with 'Mod’.”

Desperate for something to complain about, the French have accused Wiggo and his all-conquering Team Sky of being boring. The tour, they say, should be about daring and romance, not the calculated, grinding efficiency of the British approach. “Anglo-Saxon teams are more organised,” huffs Yves Blanc, editor of Le Cycle magazine. “Every member has a job to do, serving the leader, but there’s no room for poetry.” And even less room for the French, who, sadly, haven’t won their own Tour since 1985.

So strong is our squad that another Sky rider, Chris Froome, finished second, while their team-mate – reigning world road race champion Mark Cavendish – was used to shuttle water bottles. To understand the scale of this achievement, it helps to know that just seven years ago there wasn’t a single British rider in the Tour. Our absence was partly down to a historical lack of talent and interest, and partly to a sense that the race was unwinnable by anyone possessed of a notional sense of fair play. Cheating has been rife since the first race in 1903 when several riders were disqualified for taking trains, and the taint of drug abuse continues to hang over the event, with star rider Frank Schleck of Luxembourg pulling out of this year’s race after testing positive, and, seven-times winner Lance Armstrong currently facing doping charges in the United States.

The attitude to the Tour began to change after Britain’s spectacular performances in the 2008 Olympics, when Wiggins, Cavendish, Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton won gold medals. After decades consigned to dusty corners of the sports pages, cycling was everywhere. As, in short, order, were the nation’s risen cyclists. The explosion of popularity can have few parallels. Membership of British Cycling, the UK governing body of cycling, has more than doubled to 40,000 since 2008 and the organisation expects it to reach 100,000 by next year. A London School of Economics survey suggests that 13 million Britons now regularly cycle, and that the country’s “gross cycling product” is worth £3 billion a year. Long sniffed at as the forced option of people who couldn’t afford cars, cycling has become our most fashionable activity, primarily driven by what the industry calls Mamils (middle-aged men in Lycra), with abundant disposable income and an appetite for healthier, greener lifestyles. Unfortunately, while the pleasure of cheering Wiggo and co up the Champs-Elysées is free, our cycling obsession comes at a cost. For self-respecting Mamils, a bike is as much about image as getting you around town, and a decent one, such as a Pinarello similar to the one that Wiggo rides, with carbon-fibre frame and electronic shifting gear-set, will set you back around £9,000. A small price to pay, as the winner-less French would agree, for a taste of glory.

Monday, 6 August 2012

The Black Horse, Edingale

I set off with the news of Bradley Wiggins’ gold medal time-trial ride pinballing around my head – it was a thorough annihilation of the rest of the field – a superb performance and a fitting finale to a perfect season for (soon to be) Sir Wiggo who is now the most decorated British Olympian of all time – Sports personality of the year 2012 is nailed on!
I was like a little lad as I zipped off, heading towards Overseal on the beer ride – I imagined being Bradley in front of a partisan crowd all screaming and cheering – I’m sure I rode faster thanks to him!
The Black Horse
Tonight’s ride takes us to Edingale, Staffordshire - close to the borders of Derbyshire, Warwickshire and
Leicestershire in an area known as the Mease Valley.

Situated in a rural setting, Edingale lies equidistant from the towns of Burton on Trent to the north, Tamworth to the south east and the City of Lichfield to the south west. In many ways Edingale can be seen as a benchmark for small rural communities - the village shop and post office have passed into history whilst the infant school is still providing an educational grounding for the new generations. And the village pubs are reduced to one – clinging on…..

Looking over the village from the top of the hill, as it has for the past one hundred and twenty five years, is the Holy Trinity Church and, as is usually the case, the village pub, our destination for the evening, is not too far away. The Black Horse has, from the outside, the look of a typical local. Unassuming, maybe in need of a tidy up here and there but generally okay – no reason why you wouldn’t pop in if you were passing and felt like a pint. But inside is a different story. Not at all what you might expect. Everything looks brand new, slate and hardwood floors, oak doors and tables, white leather covered chairs, black wrought iron chandeliers….. it’s all been done with reasonable taste - it's kind of 'Dennis and Fiona welcome discerning travellers to relax, revive, savour and marvel in an atmosphere of timeless rural elegance. No overalls, No Children, Dogs by appointment'

Somehow it all feels over the top. For a small, out of the way, village local it’s punching above its weight – it looks like a fair monetary investment has been made – I wonder whether there will be a big enough footfall to justify the expense. They are clearly aiming at diners rather than drinkers – this was demonstrated by the lack of seating other than dining tables and also the lack of beer! – Only Hobgoblin available tonight along with a dubious ‘Keg’ version of Pedigree.
As we perched on our dining chairs, looking totally awkward and out of place, we decided to order a ‘bowl’ of chips each – at £1.50 per portion they seemed a fair price. What we actually got was half a dozen chips served in a coffee mug – I kid you not. Cyclists and nouveau-cuisine chips do not go together well. I wonder what the rest of the menu is like? - I imagine it will be lacking in quantity.
I think the overall opinion was that the pub was at least trying – and a couple of us described the place as being ‘nice’ I remain unconvinced however. Although I wouldn’t poo-poo a return visit, if I’m passing through on my own I’ll probably keep going.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Fantastic performance from Team GB cyclists....

It just keeps getting better.

Bradley Wiggins fulfilled his potential and his pre-race prediction to take Gold in the men's time trial - in the end it was an amazing performance, a display of perfectly paced cycling against the clock - he won by over 40 seconds, an amazing margin at this, elite, level. Chris Froome  joined Wiggo on the podium to take the bronze medal. Also on the road Lizzie Amistead took a hard earned silver in the Womens Road Race.

As the action moved to the intense, gladatorial atmosphere of the velodrome, once again we delivered. Sir Chris Hoy added another Gold to his already impressive collection with a convincing victory in the Men's team sprint. In the men's team pursuit we pulverised arch-enemies Australia, breaking the world record in the process. Then, another Gold, and another world record, in the women's team pursuit - plus Victoria Pendleton took gold in the Keirin and Ed Clancy took bronze in the Omnium.

There seems to be no stopping British cycling at the moment - we are dominant. And the talent keeps coming. The womens pursuit team - Joanna Rowsell, Danielle King and Laura Trott are aged 23, 21 and 20 - they're going to be around for a while! - its incredible that they have broken the world record (their own) for the past six times they have raced!!!

It goes to show that when the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton decide to ride into the sunset, worthy successors are in plentiful supply.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Can Wiggo get the Gold??...

At the end of the most surreal week of his life, no one could ever accuse Bradley Wiggins of not putting in one final, gut-wrenching shift to seal his seven life-changing days with a golden flourish.
But as he hung off his bike on The Mall, head down and looking utterly shattered by both the physical effort and dejection of failing to deliver for Mark Cavendish, Britain had to hope that after the time of his life, the three-time champion still has enough gas in the tank to launch his last bid for Olympic glory in today's time trial.
Wiggins had punched the air like Superman in Chartres at the climax to the time trial to celebrate his historic Tour de France triumph and all the way through to last Friday night when he was invited to ring the giant bell to launch the Games’ opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium while wearing his 'maillot jaune', the fresh icon may have felt he was living in a weird wonderland that Danny Boyle had invented especially for him.
Even lining up on The Mall on Saturday, it must have felt bizarre to find himself on his bike chatting away to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and then watching as they went over to chat to his mum Linda. Odder still? Just six days after he had stood on the Champs-Elysees hailed as the world’s greatest all-round cyclist, he then found himself effectively being asked to be a dogsbody for Cavendish around the Surrey hills.
Wiggins’s efforts did feel little short of heroic. Just as Cavendish had shuttled water bottles around the mountains for Wiggins’ benefit in the Tour, he returned the compliment on Box Hill, collecting bottles to deliver to the troops. He never stopped digging for his pal.
Then, long after the Tour runner-up Chris Froome had given up the ghost with 27km left and trailed home over 12 minutes behind, Wiggins was still motoring away with that monstrous engine trying to help Ian Stannard haul back the gap on the run-in to central London.
Only with about 5km left, looking spent and realising the game was up, did he finally began to stop trying and coasted home in 103rd place, a minute and 17 sec adrift.
Quite indefatigable, Wiggins has pooh-poohed the idea that such a massive effort might compromise his chances in the time trial but he did not have the same luxury of German world champion Tony Martin, who pulled out early to save his energy.

If Bradley Wiggins secures us our first Gold of the games today he will also become Britains most decorated Olympian - overshadowing Steve Redgrave - but can he do it?? - I'm hoping he can - the perfect close to a perfect, historic, record-breaking season. Allez Allez Wiggo!!!!!

Girl power!!!......

After the disappointment of the men's event, Britain's cyclists delivered the first home medal of the Games when Lizzie Armitstead finished second to the undisputed No.1 of women's cycling, Marianne Vos of the Netherlands in the women's road race. The pair, together with the Russian Olga Zabelinskaya, had held off the chasing field all the way from the foot of Box Hill to the doors of Buckingham Palace amid torrential rain and thunder on the Mall. 

Vos and Armitstead fought out the finish side by side, with the Yorkshirewoman perfectly positioned on Vos's wheel as the sprint began, but unable to find the strength to come past. After 25 miles fighting off the peloton at the end of the 80-mile race, with the gap never over a minute, this was a test of pure strength.

It was vindication for Armitstead nevertheless, who is aged 23, comes from Otley in Yorkshire and is a product of the Great Britain talent identification system. She finished last year's world road championship in Copenhagen in tears after a late crash cost her a possible medal, and had gambled on transferring her talents full-time to the road this year rather than trying for a medal in the team pursuit or the omnium on the track, where she made her initital breakthrough. 

As for Vos, she started the race as the overwhelming favourite and lived up to that status, with her team on the attack from the off to soften up the opposition. The Dutchwoman, a former speed skater, has built one the finest palmares in cycling, men or women's, winning gold medals across a wide range of disciplines: road, track and cyclo-cross. This was her second Olympic title after winning the points race in Beijing, and it is the climax of three seasons almost total domination of her sport.

The trio had escaped after the last climb of Box Hill with 40km to go to the Mall when Zabelinskaya went clear of the peloton on the smaller ascent at Headley, Emma Pooley initially gave chase before Vos made her move marked by Armitstead and Shelley Olds of the US. That set up an intense chase over the next 20km, with the German and Italian teams taking up the pursuit initially, but failing to bring the quartet under control.

Vos always looked the strongest of the four, with Olds giving way relatively early on, and Zabelinskaya visibly struggling, clearly unable to take a full turn at the pacemaking. But it was a brave effort from Lizzie and our first medal of the games - Well done girls!!