Kazakh spoils British road race party
LONDON (Reuters) - Old school cycling prevailed on Saturday as Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov upset Britain's plan to set up a big sprint finish for world champion Mark Cavendish when he claimed the gold medal 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, Vinokourov had 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.
Britain, brimming with confidence before the event, controlled the race all day but it proved too much of an effort for the four men who were looking to bring Cavendish home.
"Every other team was riding to slash our race. We just missed little bit of help," British road captain David Millar told reporters.
"Today it was the sprinters against the break away and the break away won," said Australian sprinter Matthew Goss.
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 kilometres remaining, leaving Cavendish with only three team mates.
It was then Tour champion Bradley Wiggins' turn to drop out exhausted. David Millar took lengthy turns in front of the peloton as the gap to the leaders hovered at around a minute.
Cavendish finished in 28th position, 40 seconds behind Vinokourov.
Swiss Fabian Cancellara, one of the strong men in the leading group, missed a turn and crashed into the safety barriers.
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 pulled away to contest a two-man sprint, which the Kazakh, who was suspended for two years in 2007 for blood doping, easily won.
Vinokourov 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.
It was all about Cavendish on Saturday morning.
After being greeted by Prince Charles and Camilla, the Manx man was the first to roll off with Wiggins to raucous applause from the crowd.
A big black dog crossed the road in the opening kilometres 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 aiding them to bring Cavendish to a mass sprint would almost certainly deprive them from 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.
On the last climb to Box Hill, Vinokourov, but also danger men Luis Leon Sanchez and Alejandro Valverde of Spain, joined a strong group who was chasing Belgian Philippe Gilbert.
Gilbert was reeled in and Vinokourov, the 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner, took his chance.
(Editing by Matt Falloon)
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