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. 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.
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. 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. The frontrunners were then stunned by an attack by Uran, which was followed by Vinokourov in the closing kilometers. They were left to go on their own, and Vinokourov took advantage of Uran looking behind him for their pursuers to launch a sprint with 300 meters remaining.