LONDON (AFP) –
Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan claimed an unexpected but deserved win in the men’s Olympic road race Saturday, wrecking Mark Cavendish’s hopes of delivering a first gold of the Games for the hosts.
Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran won the silver with Norway’s Alexander Kristoff taking the bronze after 249.5 km of racing which finished in the shadow of Buckingham Palace on The Mall.
Race favourite Cavendish finished well off the podium as Britain’s highly-fancied team were undone by a combination of tactical racing and some incisive, late attacks.
Vinokourov’s win was the latest chapter of a turbulent career for the 38-year-old Kazakh, who only returned to cycling in 2009 after serving a two-year ban for his part in a drug scandal at the 2007 Tour de France.
A disappointed Cavendish was philosophical in defeat.
“There was a group of 22 who got away and we couldn’t pull them back,” Cavendish said before praising the efforts of his team-mates in trying to set up a British victory.
“I can be proud of how the lads rode today. I’m proud of my country as there was incredible support. The guys are sat there, they are spent. They have got nothing left in the tank. It’s incredible to see that,” he said.
For Belgian Tom Boonen, who also missed out on a medal, Britain’s strength was their downfall. “They lost the race a little bit because they were so strong,” Boonen told AFP.
With no race radios and teams of a maximum five riders, Britain were constantly tested throughout the race which took in nine laps of the hilly 15.4 km Box Hill circuit, to the south of London.
After an early 12-man breakaway went on to build a lead of six minutes and were eventually joined by 10 counter-attackers, Belgian Philippe Gilbert attacked solo only to be reeled in 42 km from the finish.
However his capture only served as the springboard for an attack which, with 32 riders and some big names including Swiss Fabian Cancellara and Spain’s Luis Leon Sanchez, was far more dangerous for Britain.
Vinokourov was also in the group, but despite his past pedigree most of the peloton did not pay him enough attention.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, the recent Giro d’Italia winner, later told AFP: “Usually when Vino goes, I make sure to go with him. I wish I had that time.”
After pulling ahead of the peloton with around 35 km to race they worked together and had built a lead of 55secs on Britain and many of the other teams hoping for a bunch finish.
Although Germany had been hoping to set up a bunch sprint for leader Andre Greipel, apart from some brief help earlier in the race from Tony Martin, they did not start helping Britain’s chase bid until the final 25 km.
Boonen said Britain had not, as expected canvassed around for help.
“They were pulling, and they were acting like they didn’t need any help and so everyone just let them control the race,” added the Belgian.
Cavendish lost his first teammate when Briton Chris Froome, the runner-up to Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France last Sunday, peeled off after giving his all in the chase.
But his early exit appeared not to dent Britain’s resolve, which was boosted when Cancellara, the defending Olympic time trial champion, crashed heavily going into a right hand bend.
The spill robbed the breakaway of momentum, but they were soon back together and managed to maintain their significant advantage on the bunch.
Holding a lead of around 50sec, the frontrunners were then stunned by an attack by Uran with just under 10 km to race which was soon recognised by Vinokourov as the decisive move.
Surprisingly, the remains of the earlier 32-man group failed to react quickly, and Vinokourov took advantage of Uran looking behind him for their pursuers to launch a winning sprint with 300 metres remaining.