British racers run out of road
Olympic Road Race: No disguising the feeling of anti-climax here, not even behind the Mark Cavendish masks that some of the British supporters that lined The Mall took to wearing in support of their gold medal favourite.
In the end, after the long, winding 152-mile ride out around the North Downs, Cavendish wasn’t even in position to present his trademark sprint finish, as the so-called British Dream Team were unable to maintain their commend on the peloton.
Instead, it came down to a two-man sprint, with Kazakhstan rider Alexandr Vinokourov claiming the gold medal ahead of Colombia's Rigoberto Urán – who were both timed at five hours, 45 minutes and 57 seconds.
The Irish trio of David McCann, Nicholas Roche and Daniel Martin stuck with the peloton the entire way, and so were similarly caught out for the chance of challenging in the sprint – with McCann the best placed in 54th, Roche and Martin crossing the line together in 88th and 89th, with all three given the same time as the main bunch, or 5:46.37.
Alexander Kristoff of Norway took third, eight seconds behind, but if Vinokourov appeared shocked by his victory then he wasn’t the only one: the 38 year-old briefly retired last year after a serious crash in the Tour de France, where he broke his femur, and long before that, in 2007, it appeared his career was over two when he tested positive for blood doping, and was given a two-year ban.
The British hopes were gradually killed off by a series of breakaways, and ultimately by the decisive move by the Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, but who then crashed into the barriers coming out of Richmond Park, with about 15km to go, which ended his hopes too.
He was a leading group of 32, and they all eyed each other until Vinokourov and Urán made the bit for glory, in the last few kilometres, with a sudden burst on one of the downhill stretches: Vinokourov was always likely to win the sprint after that, but was certainly helped when Urán appeared to day-dream, just momentarily, and with that his shot at gold was over.
For Cavendish, who crossed the line in 28th, also clocking 5:46.37, the sense of disappointment was obvious: indeed he seemed to let the German Andre Greipel win the main bunch sprint, once he knew his shot was gone.
It certainly fell short of all their expectations, and yet there probably wasn’t a whole lot more the British could have done about it. Bradley Wiggins, who just last Sunday become the first British rider to win the Tour, sacrificed everything to help Cavendish, as did his three other team mates, but almost from the beginning they were forced to chase down after a series of breakaways, including a 12-man group that led by more than five minutes early on.
With the gap on the leading riders lingering at around 60 seconds going into the last 20km there was never going to be a way back into the race, despite the wall of British support that lined the entire route. The Irish riders also paid tribute to the superb support they received out on the route, which certainly helped them through a long, tiring and no doubt nerve-wracking day.
Only 114 of the 144 starters made it to the finish.