Mark Cavendish’s chances of going to Rio in search of an Olympic medal in the omnium look increasingly slender after the Manxman finished sixth in the world championships, failing to make an impact on the lengthy points race that decided the six-discipline event, where the gold medal went to the defending champion, Fernando Gaviria.
Before this week, the British Cycling coaches were unequivocal: to succeed in Rio, Cavendish would need to devote himself to the track at the possible expense of his road targets, and to justify that commitment, he would need at least a medal here. That target was attainable when Cavendish went into the points race within reach of the bronze medal and with an outside chance of snatching silver, but as the 160 laps unfolded he looked short of pure track racing speed and repeatedly missed the key moves. That was in contrast to the consummate display showed by his team-mate Jon Dibben to take the world title in the discipline on Friday evening, albeit against a far weaker field. The critical factor could well be that Dibben – seen by British Cycling as their likely Rio candidate until Cavendish put his hat in the ring – has ridden strongly here in the team pursuit, where Cavendish also needs to make up ground.
“His name didn’t help him, being the greatest road sprinter of all time,” the team’s technical director, Shane Sutton, told the BBC. “He had a big number on his back all night. We’ll sit down and discuss where he goes from here. He and his coach will look at the analysis from this week and decide.” Sutton conceded that winning a medal would have strengthened Cavendish’s case, but declined to elaborate further, “emotions are high and he has to refocus for the Madison on Sunday. At the end of the day he didn’t get the result he wanted.”
The restructuring of this event means that the concluding 160-lap points race should play a decisive role: 16 sprints count for points, while there are 20-point bonuses for gaining a lap, but critically, every point earned counts towards the overall omnium standings. What ensued was an enthralling contest with constant twists and turns, and the outcome in doubt to the very last metre, but unfortunately Cavendish played a bit part alongside Gaviria, the German Roger Kluge, the Australian Glenn O’Shea and Italy’s Elia Viviani.
Initially, there was a two-way fight for the gold medal between Gaviria and Viviani, who marked each other constantly, sometimes so much so that it seemed they might bring each other to the deck - indeed Gaviria received a warning for causing a crash around the 100 laps to go mark - or that they might take each right out of the back of the string. The four-way battle for bronze between Cavendish, Kluge, O’Shea and the Dutchman Tim Veldt ebbed and flowed but, after taking early points and moving to the bronze medal slot, Cavendish slipped to sixth at halfway after Kluge gained a lap and earned 20 points.
The German had profited from the marking between Gaviria and Viviani to move close to the gold medal slot, and behind what had turned into a three-way battle for the medals, Cavendish looked increasingly lost; on several occasions Gaviria simply left him standing as he teed himself up for a sprint or an attack. With nine laps to go, O’Shea suddenly entered the gold medal frame as he gained a late lap with the Olympic champion Lasse Norman Hansen, but Gaviria had taken point after point to hang on to the gold medal, although in the end he was level on omnium points with O’Shea and Kluge, with Viviani two more behind. Cavendish won the final sprint from Viviani, but it was too little too late.
The Manxman had finished sixth in Friday morning’s scratch race; solid enough, but it was followed by 13th place in the individual pursuit, the discipline where Cavendish’s ability causes greatest concern to the Great Britain management. Friday evening’s elimination was always expected to be a points banker for Cavendish and he did not disappoint, picking off the other riders with aplomb until a confusing final shootout with Gaviria. Saturday morning’s kilometre time trial followed the same script as the pursuit, with Cavendish slipping down the standings after finishing 12th, although a fine flying lap pushed him up the standings.
Meanwhile, in the night’s other event with direct Olympic implications, Jason Kenny proved he has come out of his quadrennial hibernation by taking an emphatic gold in the match sprint. He put his defence of his Olympic title firmly back on track by defeating the Australian Matthew Glaetzer after losing the first match, clinching the title with a rousing ride from the back in the decider.
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