LONDON — Alexander Vinokourov sprung the first surprise of the London Olympics.
Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men’s road cycling race.
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The 38-year-old Kazakh defeated the British cycling “dream team” on his own, winning the gold medal in the men’s road race to crown the end of a 14-year career that saw him in the roles of both hero and villain.
Vinokourov, who served a two-year ban after testing positive for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France, said he will retire after Wednesday’s time trial.
He would not have been riding in London had he stuck to his decision to end his career last year, when he broke a femur during the Tour de France. His morale was so low he said he would not race again, but he changed his mind and returned for one more year.
“After so many crashes, returning to cycling was difficult, but I was still hoping for a good result,” Vinokourov said after outsprinting Rigoberto Uran of Colombia. “My family, my kids, my parents were behind me the whole time. I still have the metal plate in my hip, my femur, so it wasn’t easy. Today, a dream has come true.”
In a race that was held without race radios, Vinokourov made the most of his flair and tactical sense to go out in style and prevail as the British team was unable to set up a sprint for world champion Mark Cavendish.
Cavendish had described his squad as a “dream team” before the race. He never had a chance to sprint and ended a disappointing 28th.
Vinokourov broke away from the leading group about 10 kilometers from the finish together with Uran. He then accelerated going down The Mall outside Buckingham Palace with 300 meters to go to leave Uran in his wake.
Uran took silver, with Alexander Kristoff of Norway winning a mass sprint to get the bronze.
“I certainly didn’t lose my concentration in the finish,” Uran said. “I must say it was very difficult. We did the last 10 kilometers at full speed and I don’t think either of us had much left. … I looked at Alexander and I did not have any energy left for a sprint at the finish.”
In another surprise, Taylor Phinney of the United States finished fourth, although he was in no mood to celebrate.
“Some would call fourth place the worst to arrive at the Olympics,” Phinney said, “but I won’t focus on that. I’ll get over it.”
Vinokourov, who rode with only one teammate, made sure to avoid a bunch sprint by pulling away from the lead pack and avoiding any chances of collisions near the end of the 250-kilometer race that featured the tricky Box Hill climb.
“Today, especially in the last 10 kilometers, the fact that the major teams — and especially the Germans — had no team radios played in my favors,” said Vinokourov, who is known for launching fearless attacks, even when chances to succeed are low.
“I knew that if was following the group I would have had no chance in the sprint,” he added.
Vinokourov was third at the 2003 Tour, the race in which he gained fame. He has won four stages at cycling’s premier race and also had some success in several one-day classics, winning Liege-Bastogne-Liege twice and the Amstel Gold Race once.
This was his second Olympic medal after taking silver in the road race in Sydney in 2000. He missed out on the Beijing Olympics because of his doping suspension.