Tour demons in background, Bauer eyes gold
The dark days and the lonely slogs are finally in the background for New Zealand cyclist Jack Bauer.
Tomorrow night (NZ time) around Glasgow's city streets, five compatriots will have his back to try and propel him to the Commonwealth Games podium as New Zealand's top hope in the men's road race.
Bauer's name has been in lights for much of the last fortnight as his own sporting agony was played out on cycling's biggest stage. Poised for the first individual Tour de France stage win by a New Zealander, Bauer's gut-busting breakaway was swallowed up 25m from the finish of stage 15 in Nimes. His tears and utter despair were broadcast for all to see.
"It was my shot. In cycling it's not like everyone on the team is in a position to win a stage every day, especially for the likes of myself and the job that I do," Bauer said, outside the athletes' village in Glasgow.
"OK, it wasn't like any other day. It was a day when I emptied the tank and I gave it my all for myself and for New Zealand. I know it would have been a bit of a historic event to bag a stage as a Kiwi, but opportunities will come again in the future."
For now, the next opportunity is a Commonwealth Games medal. Just under a week since the Tour ended, Bauer feels fit and strong, his demons almost exorcised.
"I had some dark moments in the middle of the race, the day or two after I missed out on that win on stage 15 but since then I've been on the up and I've had a quiet week at home. Like Hendy [Greg Henderson], I'm confident of what I can do on Sunday."
Bauer and Henderson are the headline acts in the six-man New Zealand team also including Jesse Sergent (fifth in yesterday's time trial), national criterium champion Mike Northey and track gold medallists Tom Scully (points race) and Shane Archbold (scratch).
When the team was announced, Henderson was seemingly the target man but his Tour de France crash which split open his knee saw the baton handed to Bauer.
Henderson, 37 and at his farewell Games, had his stitches removed a week ago and revealed a long, purple scar on his knee. It looked to have healed well and after a five-hour ride on Thursday he pronounced himself ready.
"It was panic stations there for a while but I've trained well over the last two weeks and I'm quietly confident in my condition," Henderson said.
"All going well a breakaway can put the right people in the right move and we have one the strongest riders in the race with Jack and if it comes down to a bunch sprint I can still sprint with the best in the world."
The tight, 12-lap course will be tricky and lends itself to early breakaways over the 168km race. Australia, spearheaded by another Tour rider Mark Renshaw, are shooting for their fifth successive gold in the race. Hayden Roulston, out with an achilles problem, won silver for New Zealand in Delhi four years ago after fine team riding from Bauer and Gordon McCauley.
Bauer rode solo when finishing an excellent 10th in the London Olympic road race in 2012, after Henderson took ill. Now he's got company and he feels at peace.
"You can't predict how the finale will play out. But we have a great team in that we have Greg here for the sprint, we have myself and Jesse who are more than competent in a breakaway and the boys from the track, as well as Mike Northey, they're all classy bike riders. We've got a very even approach for whatever the race throws up."