This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) won the gold medal in the men's road race at the 2012 London Olympic Games, outsprinting his breakaway companion Rigoberto Uran of Colombia. The two had jumped from a large break group near the end of the race, and tore down The Mall alone to the finish line. Behind them, Norwegian Alexander Kristoff won the sprint of the chase group for the bronze medal.
Vinokourov, who is retiring this season, was overjoyed at the finish. It was his second medal, after winning silver in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. The wily veteran timed his moves perfectly, first upon jumping from the escape group and then taking advantage of a moment of inattention by Uran to go for the gold.
It was a major blow for the sprinters, and especially for the British team, which worked hard but fruitlessly to set things up for world champion Mark Cavendish. But perhaps the biggest loser of the day was Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, who held a promising position in the lead group until a crash into the barriers with just over 10km to go dropped him. He finished the race, but appeared to have been injured, and his participation in Wednesday's time trial was put into question.
Vinokourov easily took the two-up sprint over Uran
A large early break
As expected, the early break formed soon after the London start. Strong in numbers and in talent, Jurgen Roelandts (Belgium) and Marco Pinotti (Italy) were joined by Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan), Denis Menchov (Russia), Stuart O’Grady (Australia), Tim Duggan (USA), Lieuwe Westra (Netherlands), Jonathan Castroviejo (Spain), Janez Brajkovic (Slovenia), Michael Schar (Switzerland), Alexander Kristoff (Norway) and Sungbaek Park (Korea).
Great Britain’s appearance on the front soon followed, a mirror of their approach that was successfully applied last year in Copenhagen’s Worlds. With the gap stretching to 4:30 David Millar, Britain’s road captain, dropped down the line of the peloton, searching for expected allies in Germany. A parley with Greipel led to a brief cooperation with Tony Martin’s legs sacrificed as he joined the home nation on the front.
But as the field reached the first climb up Box Hill the gap continued to grow, reaching 5:27 at the crest.
Team GB spent a good deal of the day on the front, trying to keep a leash on breakaways
A probing attack from Michael Rogers did little to crack the opposition but its mere intent provided Britain with enough evidence that Australia would not provide unilateral allegiance in a desire for a sprint finish.
And once Rogers was absorbed the Belgian team played their hand, massing on the front of the peloton at the start of the fourth climb of Box Hill. Nervous looks and accelerations took over but it was Vincenzo Nibali who grabbed the initiative, launching a vicious attack. Robert Gesink, Martin Elmiger, Philippe Gilbert and Greg van Avermaet latched on, as Britain was forced to react with Stannard and Froome setting a pace for Cavendish.
At the crest of the climb the Nibali group had over 15 seconds with a second batch of riders making contact on the descent.
On fifth ascent Nibali and Gilbert attacked again. This time they were joined by a group of immense firepower with Lars Boom, Jakob Fuglsang, Sylvain Chavanel, Gregory Rast (Switzerland), Andriy Grivko (Ukraine), Niki Terpstra (Netherlands), Luca Paolini (Italy), Jack Bauer (New Zealand) and Taylor Phinney.
The gap from the bunch to the lead group had been reduced to 3:50 at the top of the fifth ascent of Box Hill, but Nibali’s group had established a 30 second advantage.
With 100 kilometres to go Cavendish’s chances hung by a knife edge.
There was a brief discussion, Wiggins and Millar in conversation, before the expected reaction came. And by the sixth climb of Box Hill the Nibali group reached the top of the climb 1:15 down on the leaders, while the peloton crosses the summit 45 seconds later.
The gap continued to drop with Wiggins and Froome dictating the majority of the pace. The gap to the leaders was soon under a minute with just 20 seconds the advantage for Nibali and his accomplices. Gilbert, sensing that the move was losing its spark, and in a bid to cement a Belgian foot hold, attacked. However he was soon brought back.
Britain continued with their efforts, attempting to grind the opposition into the ground and with 170km raced Cavendish still has all four teammates on the front. The race has swung back in the sprinter’s favour.
However when the two breaks merged new life was breathed into tired legs, the Italian team, along with Timmy Duggan, the most animated aggressors. A 45 second buffer was established with the British team creating a brief lull in their chase.
Tejay van Garderen bridged up to what became the key move of the day, and then drove hard in support of US teammate Taylor Phinney, who finished fourth
With three men in the lead break Belgium’s strong position was clear and Gilbert set the pace on the foot of Box Hill for the penultimate climb. Fuglsang, who may not ride for his trade team again this year, showed his strength as he took over from Gilbert but by the top of the climb the British team has them at less than one minute.
Gilbert once again attacked, this time with more purpose. Tom Boonen meanwhile had moved closer to the head of the field, watching as Britain expended energy in the chase. Gilbert pushed his advantage to almost a minute on the final loop over Box Hill with the remnants of the break starting to splinter over the road.
The final climb of Box Hill was the last chance saloon for a number of riders, and continuous attacks were launched but the British kept their form and tempo, unrelenting in the pressure as they cushioned Cavendish towards the top. However with fresh legs having made it to the lead group on the climb the sprinters’ faced a new challenge.
Fabian Cancellara, Luis Leon Sanchez, and Alejandro Valverde were among the fresher riders and the Spanish, with three riders, brought the gap to 57 seconds, having already reeled in Gilbert.
Germany and Australia sensed the danger, moving onto the tail end of the British train.
A drag race ensued with the British team still ploughing ahead of the bunch as break sensed that Cavendish’s men had lost their grip.
Wiggins, Froome, Stannard and Millar all sacrificed themselves for Cav, but it was not enough
Wiggins moved to the front, surely earlier than he would have liked, as he drove to peloton in pursuit. Froome soon cracked as Cancellara huffed and puffed, moving his pawns, Rast and Schar, to the head of affairs. With 25 kilometres the gap had inched out to 1:05.
Stannard was almost single-handed in the chase, while the break continued to work with greater purpose, urgency and efficiency.
Wiggins again took charge and the response was immediate with 15 seconds shaved off the gap, but with 20 km it was still 51 seconds.
Shockingly, Cancellara misjudged a corner and crashed into the barriers. The lead group was momentarily stunned but again quickly picked up the speed. The Swiss start was soon back in the field, and then back at the race doctor's car, looking as if he may have re-injured the right collarbone which he shattered earlier this year.
Success from the lead group
Soon enough the lead group realized it would must likely get through to the end, and with 10 km to go, the unanimity in the group was over as each rider tried to figure out how to grab the gold. Vinokourov and Uran were the first to jump, building up a small lead.
No one in any of the groups was willing to work together any more, virtually handing the two top medals to Vinokourov and Uran – who were of course only reluctantly cooperating with one another.
Vinokourov took off with about 200 metres to go, catching Uran off guard. He rode joyfully over the finish line, followed by the Colombian. The first chase group came in only eight seconds later, with Kristoff taking bronze. Andre Griepel led the defeated peloton to the finish about 30 seconds later. Cancellara came in some five minutes down.