London Games ready for explosive opening as Phelps and Cavendish lead gold rush

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Two of the biggest names in world sport bid to get the London 2012 gold rush off and running today.

The most decorated Olympian of all time Michael Phelps starts his quest for the first of seven gold medals in the aquatics centre.

And on the Mall and around the streets of London and Surrey, Manx Missile Mark Cavendish aims to get the host country’s Olympic campaign off to a flying start in the men’s road race.

It promises to be an explosive first full day of action with the fastest man in the pool and the quickest man on two wheels taking centre stage.

Phelps, the 27-year-old who won a record eight gold medals at Beiijing, contests the 4x100m individual medley today.

It will be the first of many battles over the coming week between Phelps and his American team-mate Ryan Lochte, who edged their personal rivalry at last year’s world championships in Shanghai.

Attempting to force his way through this morning’s heats and into tonight’s final will be Rotherham’s Joe Roebuck as he begins his own busy Olympic campaign. In between times, Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and the five-strong British road race squad will try and put Cavendish in a position to add Olympic gold to the world title he won last year.

Cavendish’s rivals have lauded him as ‘invincible’ and the clear favourite to sprint to victory over the 250km course. And although he relishes the task in front of an anticipated roadside audience of one million, Cavendish knows it is far from a foregone conclusion.

Cavendish, a winner of 23 Tour de France stages, said: “We’re racing in a sport with infinite variables, whether it’s luck or someone has a good day, you have a bad day.

“That’s what makes cycling special. It’s also what makes you nervous.”

Cavendish refuses to even contemplate the prospect of glory, considering only the run-in to the finish in front of Buckingham Palace.

He said: “Sorry to say but it’s not as romantic as it sounds. It’s a straight, then a right-left, then a slight downhill, bearing left, wide finish.”

If all goes to plan, Cavendish will unleash his trademark sprint after the peloton pass the Queen Victoria Memorial.

Twenty-four hours later Otley’s Lizzie Armitstead, 23, bids to win the women’s road race, while a busy weekend of swimming sees Northallerton’s 25-year-old Jo Jackson look to emulate her surprise success of Beijing, when she competes in the 400m freestyle in which she is defending bronze medallist.

Also in the aquatics centre tomorrow, the first two of seven Yorkshire divers and five from the City of Leeds club bid for Olympic glory when Rebecca Gallantree, 27, and Alicia Blagg, 15, contest the 3m synchronised springboard event.

Olympians prepare for action: Pages 2-4.