Allan Davis continued Australia’s near-complete domination of the cycling events at the Commonwealth Games, winning the men’s road race just hours after his compatriot Rochelle Gilmore won the women’s event.
But it was far from a straightforward victory for the sprinter as the race shattered into pieces in the final stages and became a tactical battle of wits.
In complete contrast to the women’s road race, which failed to produce a meaningful break, the men’s race was extremely aggressive despite the lack of obvious opportunities to make it difficult on the flat course in Delhi.
Davis, third in the World Championships road race in Geelong last weekend, looked to have missed the boat when four riders went clear on the final lap. But he bridged across the gap to David Millar (Scotland), David McCann (Northern Ireland), Chris Sutton (Australia) and Hayden Roulston (New Zealand).
At the finish Davis was the fastest, with Roulston second and Millar third.
The race was fascinating from the start, partly because of the disparity between the strongest and the weakest riders in the field, and partly because the Kiwis were so determined to put the Aussies on the back foot early on.
On the first lap three Kiwis – Gordon McCauley, Marc Ryan and Sam Bewley – went clear in a move that was sparked by the Northern Irish rider McCann. South Africa’s Christoff Van Heerden also went with them.
Although the five leaders got a gap of a minute-and-a-half easily enough there was disharmony in the group, with Van Heerden reluctant to do much work, which annoyed McCann, who was keen to get on with it.
Eventually McCann went clear on his own and was marked by McCauley. The pair then made the race and built a lead of more than three minutes.
With three laps to go they were caught by a group as the bunch began to fracture. McCann and McCauley were joined by another two Kiwis – Roulston and Jack Bauer – and Canada’s Zach Bell.
Behind them was a powerful chase group of Millar, Sutton, Davis, Dominique Rollin (Canada), Mark Cavendish (Isle of Man) and Luke Rowe (Wales).
One of the preoccupations for the Aussies was to shake off Cavendish, who would be the favourite to win a sprint, but the Isle of Man rider was dogged.
On the penultimate lap, Bauer attacked on his own and built a lead of 30 seconds. Although he looked good, the lead was never enough to give him a real chance of staying clear. Behind him the two chasing groups joined together to make ten.
With just over a lap to go, Bauer was caught. And at that moment, the leading group began to splinter as the pressure of the chase began to tell. Cavendish, Rowe, Bell and McCauley lost contact but, astonishingly, McCann was one of those who got across.
Cavendish had to dig very deep to get back up but eventually, as they went through the finish line to start the final lap, he made contact.
There was a flurry of attacks. Rollin had a go. Then Davis with McCann in his wake. Then Roulston. Each time Millar took it on himself to chase.
With all the accelerations at the front, Cavendish lost touch again, this time for good.
The group split in two as Millar took the initiative through the tighter corners and applied more pressure. He dragged Sutton, McCann and Roulston clear and that looked to be it until Davis rode across.
As soon as Davis made contact, Millar attacked but Sutton, playing the role of team-mate, closed it down.
The sprint was always likely to go Davis’s way but Millar’s reward for his aggression was a bronze medal. He will be the favourite to win gold in the time trial on Wednesday.
McCann and McCauley – who had been out in front nearly all day – were an excellent fifth and eighth respectively.
1. Allan Davis (Australia)
2. Hayden Roulston (New Zealand)
3. David Millar (Scotland) both same time
4. Chris Sutton (Australia) at 4sec
5. David McCann (Northern Ireland) at 11sec
6. Dominique Rollin (Canada) at 22sec
7. Mark Cavendish (Isle of Man) at 59sec
8. Gordon McCauley (New Zealand) at 1-09