A tenacious Jack Bauer picked up a hard-earned silver medal in the men’s road race in atrocious conditions today.
The 140 starters had to contend with torrential rain for much of their 168km journey and conditions were so hazardous the riders had to be really careful on some of the sharp and slippery off-camber corners.
Bauer, 29, looked good throughout, and got into in a breakaway group of three – along with Welshman Geraint Thomas and Englishman Scott Thwaites - near the end.
It became clear the three would be dividing the medals between themselves. Then 11km from the end, Thomas rode away to sew up the gold medal, though he did have a scare 6kms from the finish when he punctured.
Bauer and Thwaites were left to dispute the silver and the Englishman led out in the final sprint, before Bauer came through and took him on the line.
Thomas won in 4h 13min 05s, giving him a margin of 1min 21s over Bauer and Thwaites.
For Bauer, the medal came as welcome relief after some near misses.
The man from Takaka is well-respected on the European professional tours, riding for American team Garmin-Sharp. In the Tour de France this year he went excruciatingly close to winning stage 15. For 222 kilometres he was in a breakaway group of two, but was caught when only 50 metres from the finishing line.
Bauer has compiled a solid CV of performances in major races, without getting among the medals. He was 10th in the road race at the Delhi Commonwealth Games and also at the 2012 London Olympics. He has won stages on tours in Europe and has always appealled as a medal contender at a games.
But in the road race – more than four hours of strength-sapping racing – anything can happen. It worked out for Bauer.
“It’s a thrill for me in my career and I am always proud to represent New Zealand and race on the Commonwealth Games,” Bauer said.
“I had absolutely nothing left in the tank out there. I want to pay tribute to my teammates who covered all the early breaks, and then Shane Archbold, especially, who did all the hard work in chasing down the solo leader.
“The whole team did a tremendous job today and I felt like I needed to finish it off. Gee (Geraint) was too good today but I really wanted that silver.”
The other New Zealander to finish the race, Greg Henderson, was seventh in 4h 18min 20s, completing his ninth games at both Commonwealth and Olympic level and a tremendous comeback after splitting his knee over three weeks ago.
“That was so hard out there, harder than stages of the Tour de France. I was on the rivet the whole time and never felt any good until 100kms.”
Tom Scully, Archbold, Jesse Sergent and Michael Northey pulled out when their jobs were done, with Archbold arguably the overall cycling star for the Kiwis this week after his gold medal on the track, and playing a key role in the gold for Tom Scully int he points race and the silver for Bauer today.
In the women’s race, Linda Villumsen finished fifth, only three seconds outside the bronze.
Villumsen, who won the road time trial gold medal a few days ago, was always well placed and came on strongly towards the end.
She could do nothing about the two Englishwomen who headed the field, Lizzie Armitstead and Emma Pooley, but finished just behind South African Ashley Pasio and Australian Tiffany Cromwell.
Armistead won in 2h 38min 43s. Villumsen was timed at 2h 39min 57s – 1min 14s behind the gold medallist.
There were five other New Zealanders in the race and they finished in a bunch at 2h 44min 12s. Joanne Kiesanowski crossed in ninth place, Emily Collins 10th, Rushlee Buchanan 15th, Reta Trotman 16th and Jaime Nielsen 17th.
There were 63 starters.
The cycling team finished with a record 15 medals, beating the previous best of 12 in Auckland and pushing themselves firmly into the frame as they look towards Rio.
“It was mission accomplished here. The sprint boys promised and delivered, and our bunch racing on the track, the mountain bike and the road were all impressive,” said BikeNZ High Performance Director, Mark Elliott.
He singled out Shane Archbold for special praise after his performance on the track and road over the games.
“It was an excellent overall team performance. That said, remember that this is not the Olympics and some of our success came in events that will not be on the programme at Rio.”
CAPTION: Silver medallist Jack Bauer on the podium. Credit: Guy Swarbrick.