An excerpt from Chapter 16 of Dancing Priest by Glynn Young, as Michael Kent leads the British cycling team during the Olympic Games.
Stage four, the final stage into the western suburbs of Athens and the Olympic Stadium, was the most grueling. Fully three-fourths was through mountains, the two-lane road snaking its way around, up, and down steep hills and deep valleys. Training as much as they had in the Highlands of Scotland and the mountains of Wales had brought an enormous advantage for the British. Based on the coaches’ reconnaissance trip the previous week, Michael knew the road would flatten twenty-seven kilometers from the end. As soon as it did, the sprinters would dash to win the individual positions.
The British were in control, however. Even with most of the Canadians just ahead of them, reeling in the breakaway group of cyclists that had formed and taken off early, and the Germans close behind, no team threatened the overall British position. In fact, by the end of the third stage the day before, riders and news commentators all saw the British as unstoppable. They’d put so much time between themselves and their nearest competitors in the first three stages that only some major disaster could threaten their certainty of the gold medal.
Thirty-five kilometers from the finish, Michael directed the team to accelerate to catch the Canadians, help reel in the last few breakaway riders, and allow Pitts to have the best shot possible at winning the individual stage. He thought Pitts could do it; he’d signaled him ahead and to the left of the peloton, right behind Michael and two others, to put him in the best position for the final sprint into Athens. Roger nodded his understanding.
The scenery was phenomenal, but Michael, sweat stinging his eyes and his calves aching, focused only on the road and the riders around him. Two members of the British team, Roddy Williams and Joe Quentin, were riding forward and just to his right side, doing the yeomen’s work with the Canadians of pulling the breakaway riders back into the peloton, the main group of the riders. Michael could easily see Robbie two bike lengths ahead of him; in fact, Robbie had never been more than three bike lengths from Michael during the entire stage. If Roger can win first, Robbie’s in position to take second or maybe even upend Roger and grab first. Michael would be satisfied either way, the individual first won by a fellow team member or the young Canadian who’d become a good friend in the past two weeks. His national sympathies pulled him toward seeing the individual win go to Britain, while his personal sympathies leaned toward the young Canadian who was now a brother in the faith.
Michael looked at his onboard computer and saw they were approaching the thirty-kilometer mark. All but two of the breakaway riders had been absorbed back into the main group, into the peloton, and those two were flagging. Soon the Canadians and the British would be alone for the sprint into Athens.
They approached and began rounding the sharp curve in the road. At this point, the road sloped downward, aiding acceleration.
Fifteen minutes before, Olympic officials led by the 1980s French cycling champion Marcel Deronde had driven through in the advance automobiles with no problems. Deronde and his fellow officials, some on Vespa scooters, were making sure the mountain road was clear of vehicles and spectators, who often posed a danger to the cyclists. The officials were farther ahead of the peloton than was customary in stage races. Here spectators were not a problem. There was no place to stand, with the sheer rock face on the left and a sheer drop on the right, separated from the cyclists only by a guardrail. So the advance cars and scooters had sped up to get to the lower elevations and deal with more likely problems with the crowds.
Fifteen minutes earlier, the road had been clear. But then everything changed.
Experience the story of Michael Kent in the pages of Dancing Priest, now available from Dunrobin Publishing.