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Manx Missile takes starring role in London 2012 dress rehearsal

Mark Cavendish of Great Britain already has an appointment at Buckingham Palace to pick up his MBE, and today picked up another prize in front of the royal residence, winning the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, the dress rehearsal for the Olympic road race in 12 months' time. The Manxman outsprintied a select group of 20 riders contesting the finale on The Mall, although missing from that group was the American, Tyler Farrar, who crashed a couple of kilometres out. Italy's Sacha Modolo was second, with Samuel Dumoulin third.

Huge crowds, compared by some to those that greeted the Tour de France on its Grand Départ from London in 2007, cheered the peloton on as the riders left the Mall and all the way along the 140-kilometre course through South West London and into Surrey.

There, a lucky few had been able to obtain the wristbands that gave them access to the Zig Zag Road section of Box Hill, where fan numbers were restricted, as they will be during the Olympics, as a result of the National Trust-owned land being a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to rare species of butterfly and orchid found there.

In 12 months’ time, the riders with ambitions to succeed Samuel Sanchez as Olympic champion, and presumably spend the next four years accessorising various parts of their bike and kit in gold, will have to negotiate the short but punishing ascent nine times.

Today’s event saw the riders tackling Box Hill twice, and both times it was Rapha-Condor-Sharp’s Kristian House, British Champion in 2009, who learnt his cycling in the hill country around Austin, Texas after his family moved there when he was a child, who was the first man over.

House’s presence in the race was due to the decision of the organisers to invite several UK-based trade teams to participate in the event. Presumably, that was partly to do with guaranteeing a decent-sized field.

However, it also gave riders from those seven teams such as Twenty3c-Orbea and Cyclepremier-Metaltek a chance to pit themselves against some big names in the 21 national squads, including the Cavendish-led team representing Great Britain and a separate England team.

House was joined in the break, which had already established a lead of 3 minutes as it headed through Richmond Park, by Tom Murray of Sigma Sport-Specialized, Liam Holohan of Team Raleigh and the Brazilian rider, Cleberson Weber.

The quartet were out on their own as the race headed through the Surrey Hills, allowing House to pick up the day’s King of the Mountains prize, but as the riders headed back into the capital the pace picked up at the front of the chasing bunch, with a number of riders shelled out of the back ahead of the bunch finish in front of Buckingham Palace.

House was the last of the escapees to be swept up with just 9 kilometres left to ride, and although Team Sky's Kurt Asle Arvesen, riding today in the colours of his native Norway, then tried to get away, he too was brought back.

Although there was no women’s race today, the closed roads also gave some of the women looking to succeed Beijing winner, Great Britain’s Nicole Cooke, an opportunity to try out the course.

Among those spotted riding the route was the irrepressible Jeannie Longo of France, winner of the road race at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, who will be aged 53 by London 2012.

The BBC, which has come under criticism for not providing live coverage of the event, even via the Red Button service, will be showing brief highlights of today’s race in a special Olympics round-up programme on BBC2 next Sunday afternoon.
 

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.