Team GB’s search for a first gold medal continues as Kazakhstan’s Alexandre Vinokourov broke clear in the closing stages to win the Olympic road race.
Home favourite Mark Cavendish was hotly tipped to triumph in the 250km bike ride, which finished at The Mall, but a thrilling and unpredictable race eventually went from his grasp.
Both the style and eventual winner of the event came as a surprise, with the five-strong Great Britain ‘dream team’, featuring Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, expected to supply the necessary support for Cavendish to deliver one of his signature sprint finishes.
However a series of breakaways took their toll, as countries looked to eliminate the danger of the ‘Manx Missile’, allowing Vinokourov to pounce ahead of Colombian Rigoberto Uran.
Alexander Kristov of Norway went clear of the chasing pack in London to claim bronze, while Cavendish finished highest of the Team GB riders, back in 29th position.
Scotsman David Millar, Tour de France runner-up Chris Froome and National Road Race Champion Ian Stannard completed a star-studded British line-up, and while each took their turn in controlling the peloton, the gap simply could not be bridged.
After a relatively drama-free start, a succession of attacks resulted in a 32-man breakaway group featuring Fabian Cancellara and Luis Leon Sanchez as the race entered Box Hill.
They boasted a lead of over five minutes at one stage, but the expertise of the Great Britain team, aided by expert time-trialist Tony Martin, slowly began to reign in the advantage gained by the leaders.
The gap was around two minutes as the competitors climbed Box Hill for the penultimate time, and a bunch sprint finish looked on the cards, but never materialised.
A lack of race information, including time gaps back to the peloton may have had an impact, while the use of team radios, a vital element of the Tour de France, were prohibited, and the British team were unable to pace themselves into contention.
Things weren’t exactly going to plan at the front, as leading Swiss hope Cancellara crashed out around a corner, causing mayhem and seemingly giving the Brits a chance, but the eagerness to prevent Cavendish from completing a summer of cycling dominated by the host nation shone through.
The winning attack came in the final three kilometres from eventual gold and silver medal winners Vinokourov, a former drugs cheat, and Uran, with the former capitalising on a momentary lapse in concentration from the Colombian to take the win in the finishing straight.
It was heartbreak for Cavendish however, as the 27-year-old was the only member of the Beijing track cyclist team not to win a medal, while he also sacrificed much of his green jersey chances in the Tour de France to aid fellow countryman Wiggins.