Kazakhstan’s Alexandr Vinokourov celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the Men’s Road Cycling race at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London. Rigoberto Uran of Colombia took silver, with Alexander Kristoff of Norway claiming bronze. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
By Julien Pretot
LONDON, July 28 (Reuters) – 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 news 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 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.
Tour de France runner-up Chris Froome dropped out with about 30 kilometers remaining, leaving Cavendish with only three team mates.
It was then Tour champion Bradley Wiggins’s turn to quit exhausted. Millar took lengthy turns in front of the peloton as the gap to the leaders hovered at around 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 team mate at Team Sky.
Swiss Fabian Cancellara, one of the strong men in the leading group, missed a turn and crashed into the safety barriers in the last 15 km.
He crossed the finish line five minutes and 43 seconds off the pace with an apparent wrist injury just four days before he attempts to defend his Olympic time trial title.
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 Kazakh 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 the crowd.
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 other teams, who knew any aid they provided to bring Cavendish to a mass sprint would almost certainly deprive them of gold.
Germany, also looking for a mass sprint for Andre Greipel, were nowhere to be seen at the front of the peloton, prompting Millar to urge them to take their share of the work.
As a game of bluff and counter bluff unfolded, Britain briefly dropped from the front of the bunch. Froome and Wiggins, however, were back in control as the peloton tackled the first ascent to the top of Box Hill.
Germany only sporadically came to the rescue and the lack of cooperation eventually ruined all the sprinters’ chances.
“Today it was the sprinters against the breakaway and the breakaway won,” said Australian speedster Matthew Goss.
On the last climb to Box Hill, Vinokourov, but also danger men Luis Leon Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde of Spain, joined a strong group chasing Belgian Philippe Gilbert.
Gilbert was reeled in and Vinokourov, the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner, took his chance.