Kazakh stuns Briton in cycling road race
LONDON, United Kingdom - 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, 38, who immediately announced his retirement, wrote the last chapter of a turbulent career. He 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.
But the blond-haired racer, who is also known for his tactical nous and aggressive style, said his shady past was now behind him.
"I closed that chapter of my life in 2007 and I've proved today that I didn't come back for nothing. I've come here today and achieved a dream," said Vinokourov.
Despite the pre-Olympics hype of a British outfit labelled the "Dream Team", a disappointed Cavendish was philosophical in defeat.
"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 was 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."
They eventually built a lead of around 50 seconds on the peloton and despite Cancellara crashing, it proved enough to end many teams' hopes of a bunch sprint battle for the gold.
With around 10 km to race, Uran rocketed out of the leading group, a move Vinokourov believed decisive.
Surprisingly, they were left unchallenged and in the final 300 metres Vinokourov took advantage of Uran looking behind him for their pursuers to launch a winning sprint.
Later, the Colombian played down suggestions he had given up the fight.
"No, I didn't lose my concentration. We'd done the last 10km at full speed," said Uran. "I looked to my right and suddenly Alexandre took off. I didn't have anything left for a sprint.
"It's a very important medal for me. We didn't think we had any chance of winning a medal today because there were a lot of big teams with five riders."
Kristoff said he "didn't expect to get a medal" but now that he has he can step out of the shadow of more famous Norwegians like Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
"For my career it's important as I'm not as well known as Thor and Edvald. Of course I've (now) got a bronze medal at the Olympics and everyone watches the medallists." - Agence France-Presse