Hayden Roulston, the big man on the New Zealand cycling squad, further enhanced an already glowing reputation with his courageous silver medal ride in the road race today. Roulston, the New Zealand cycling hero at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, confirmed his world class as a road racer, too, not that those who follow cycling closely needed proof of that. He’s shown his mettle on some of the big professional tours overseas over the past two years and would have had done even better but for a run of injuries.
But how Roulson lasted nearly four hours in the broiling sun when he was ill defies belief. He said after the race that he had been suffering from flu and had been in bed for two days. He said he had even contemplated not starting, though I’m dubious about that – it’s not just in a road racer’s genes to flag it away that easily.
It should be mentioned immediately that Roulson owed a vast amount to his team-mates – Jack Bauer, Gordon McCauley, Clinton Avery, Sam Bewley and Marc Ryan. There was not a genuine road race sprinter among the six New Zealanders, so they rode aggressively and cleverly, and did all they could to take the opposition sprinters out of the race, attacking continually to sap the strength from the sprinters’ legs.
They were more fortunate than the New Zealand women, who tried the same tactics a few hours earlier but got absolutely no help from the field. At least in the men’s race, a few riders from other countries showed an interest in shaping the race. It was just unfortunate that Australian sprinter Allan Davis was able to regain contact with the leaders in time to organise himself for the dash to the line.
Road riders are a really tough breed. McCauley is a physical marvel. He’s rising 38, but you wouldn’t have known it today. He led for the best part of 100km, a magnificent piece of riding. The Aucklander calls himself “the People’s Champion”. He is certainly a character, a larger-than-life personality who seems to inevitably produce on the big occasion. Bauer also had a go near the end of today’s race and shook up the leaders. It was amazing these riders had anything left by this stage because the Delhi weather today was steamy and strength-sapping.
It doesn’t pay to devote all the attention to the road race winner because that man is usually on the dais courtesy of sterling work by his team-mates. I recall Mark Rendell winning the Commonwealth Games road race at Victoria in 1994, yet at least half the medal belonged to Brian Fowler, who did a brilliant job holding off the chasing pack to clear the way for Rendell.
Even so, Roulston is some rider. This is the third consecutive Commonwealth Games in which the pride of Ashburton has won a medal. Don’t forget, this is the man who gave away his sport in 2006 because of an irregular heart beat. That retirement didn’t last long. By Beijing he was back, winning silver in the individual pursuit and bronze in the teams pursuit. Since then he’s been campaigning on the roads, riding in a high-profile professional team. But in a star-studded team like his he gets lumbered with a lot of the spadework.
It must have been a pleasure for him today to have team-mates setting up the race for him.
Despite his good record on the road, and today’s medal, the word is that Roulston is eyeing a return to the track before the 2012 London Olympics. That’s good news for New Zealand cycling. He’s good at whatever he does, but you don’t come across a track rider as good as Roulston very often. Gary Anderson built a similar sort of career on the track in the late 1980s and early 90s, then spent several years trying to crack the road racing scene. Eventually he moved back to the track, but I felt he lost some key years in his career with that move.
Roulston will be 31 in London. Recharged, back on the track, and with his Midas touch, dare we hope he might have yet more medals in him?