Old school cycling prevailed on Saturday as former doping cheat Alexandre Vinokourov upset Britain’s plan to set up a big sprint finish for world champion Mark Cavendish when he claimed gold in the Olympic road race.
Colombian Rigoberto Uran took silver, with Norway’s Alexander Kristoff coming home third to win the bronze medal, eight seconds behind.
A rider of instinct, Kazakhstan’s Vinokourov, who was suspended for two years in 2007 for blood doping, cleverly slipped into a 32-man group that the British team failed to rein in on the way back to central London from Box Hill.
“I’ve turned the [doping] page and I showed that Vino is still there,” Vinokourov, silver medalist at the Sydney Games in 2000, told a press conference. “I don’t think it’s the right moment to talk about doping, but I’ve turned the page, I was suspended for two years.Cycling has been doing a lot to fight doping thanks to the Tour de France organizers and the UCI [International Cycling Union].”
“We’re on the right track,” added Vinokourov, who announced he would quit professional cycling after crashing out of the Tour de France last year, but could not resist the urge to get back on the bike.
Britain, brimming with confidence before the event, controlled the race all day, but with only a maximum of five riders per team, it proved too much of an effort for the four who were looking to bring Cavendish home.
“Every other team was riding to slash our race. We just missed a little bit of help,” British captain David Millar told reporters.
The leading group took shape in the last of nine ascents of Box Hill and Britain did not have enough energy left to bring them back.
From 5:30pm, Taiwan’s Hsu Jo-ting competes in the women’s individual epee.
From 5pm, Taiwan’s Hsu Chi-chieh competes in the men’s 200m butterfly, while Cheng Wan-jung goes in the women’s 200m individual medley.
From 10:30pm, Taiwan’s Kuo Hsing-chun competes in Group B of the women’s under-58kg category.
Tour de France runner-up Chris Froome dropped out with about 30km remaining, leaving Cavendish with only three teammates.
It was then Tour champion Bradley Wiggins’ turn to quit exhausted. Millar took lengthy turns in front of the peloton as the gap to the leaders hovered at about a minute.
Cavendish finished in 29th, 40 seconds behind Vinokourov.
“They were only thinking about Cavendish and they had no team radio to communicate, it helped me get a silver medal,” said Uran, Cavendish’s teammate at Team Sky.
Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, one of the strong men in the leading group, missed a turn and crashed into the safety barriers in the last 15km.
The 2008 Olympic time trial champion crossed the finish line 5 minutes, 43 seconds off the pace with an apparent wrist injury.
A Swiss cycling team spokeswoman said Cancellara was bruised, but had not suffered any broken bones and a decision on whether the 31-year-old would ride in Wednesday’s time trial would be made in the coming days.
The crash split the group up, and Uran and Vinokourov, benefiting from a moment of inattentiveness from their breakaway companions, pulled away to contest a two-man sprint, which the man from Kazakhstan easily won.
It had been all about Cavendish on Saturday morning.
After being greeted by Prince Charles and Camilla, the Manx man, with Wiggins, was the first to roll off to raucous applause from a crowd estimated at 1 million.
A big black dog crossed the road in the opening kilometers, but both the animal and the peloton escaped unhurt.
Britain were left to chase an early breakaway receiving virtually no help from the other teams, who knew any aid they provided to bring Cavendish to a mass sprint would almost certainly deprive them of gold.