Alexander Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) has won the Olympic road race.
The Kazakh team leader, who last season contemplated retirement, broke clear in the last 10 kilometres with Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran to take the gold medal in the opening event of London 2012.
Uran claimed the silver medal, after entering The Mall with Vinokourov, but was caught knapping by the Kazakh within metres of hitting the famous red tarmac.
Alexander Kristoff (Norway) finished third to claim the bronze medal by leading home the breakaway group from which Vinokourov and Uran had escaped.
The race was held over a 250km course that started and finished on The Mall and included nine ascents of Box Hill in Surrey.
An early break of 13 riders formed after 20km and included the Australian veteran, Stuart O’Grady, Vuelta Espana and Giro d’Italia winner, Denis Menchov (Russia), and American national time trial champion, Tim Duggan.
By the time the group reached the foot of Box Hill for the first of nine laps, they had a lead of five-minutes on a peloton driven by Great Britain.
Three-time world time trial champion, Michael Rogers (Australia), a key ally for Bradley Wiggins in the Tour de France, rode off the front of the peloton in pursuit of the breakaway but was hauled back by the Belgians as he began the fourth ascent of Box Hill.
No sooner had he been caught, than Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, third in the Tour de France, jumped off the front of the bunch, leading a group of 12 riders that contained Philippe Gilbert and Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium, Switzerland’s Martin Elmiger, and Robert Gesink of the Netherlands.
Gilbert went clear of the breakaway group and remained ahead until just over 40km from home, when he was caught by a considerably enlarged pursuing bunch, which contained four Swiss riders, including Fabian Cancellara. With just under 30km to go, their lead over a peloton driven without aid by Great Britain by 55 seconds.
Riding with increasing desperation, Bradley Wiggins finally received some help from the German team while Niabli and Spain’s Alejandro Valverde drove the breakaway.
Disaster struck for Swiss leader, Fabian Cancellara, on the run back through Richmond Park when he overshot a corner and crashed headfirst into a barrier. Gilbert and Nibali powered ahead after anxious looks over their shoulders. Cancellara remounted but seemed unable to hold his handlebars with his right hand and was soon swept up by the peloton.
With 10 kilometres to go, Great Britain’s Ian Stannard drove relentlessly on the front of the peloton in pursuit of a breakaway unnerved by Canceallara’s crash, but which remained 55 seconds ahead of the bunch.
Just two kilometres later, Vinokourov and Uran, a Team Sky rider, sprinted clear of the breakaway.
Stannard remained at the head of the peloton, even with three kilometres to go, while Vinokourov and Uran pulled relentlessly ahead of the breakaway after sensibly working together.
The pair entered The Mall alone. Vinokourov unleashed a well-timed sprint, which Uran didn’t bother to contest. Vinokourov described his win as “unbelievable” and the race as “up and down” and “dangerous”.
Olympic Road Race – result
1) Alexandre Vinokourov (KAZ) – 5.45.57
2) Rigoberto Uran (COL)
3) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) +8”
4) Taylor Phinney (USA)
5) Sergey Lagutin (UZB)
6) Stuart O’Grady (AUS)
7) Jurgen Roelandts (BEL)
8) Gregory Rast (SUI)
9) Luca Paolini (ITA)
10) Jack Bauer (NZL)