London 2012: UK misses medal in men's cycling road race, but fans rally round

British cycling fans turned out in full force for men's cycling road race in which Britain was a favorite. Team GB missed the podium, while Kazakhstan's Vinokourov took a surprise gold.

Mark Blinch/Reuters
Alexandr Vinokurov of Kazakhstan races towards gold in the men's cycling event on Saturday.

Hundreds of thousands of British cycling fans lined the roads around London on Saturday, cheering on local favorite Mark Cavendish in the men’s road cycling race. Cavendish was a heavy favorite to score the host country’s first Olympic medal in the 2012 Games, but that feat simply wasn’t in the cards today.
First place in the 155-mile road race went to the 38-year-old Kazakh rider Alexandr Vinokourov, who beat out the Colombian Rigoberto Uran in a grinding final sprint to the finish. The Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff claimed the bronze, edging out the young American Taylor Phinney by a nose.
“It’s very mixed reactions here now,” Tanni Grey-Thompson, a British Paralympic athlete, told the BBC from the finish line just outside Buckingham Palace, where the crowds were still thick a few minutes after the race finished. “It’s been amazing… but there is a sense of disappointment."

IN PICTURES: Today at the Olympics

Vinokourov and the other medalists were all among a group of about a dozen riders who broke away early in the race, eventually gapping the peloton by close to six minutes.

The breakaway group’s lead shrank to just over a minute during a tough 10-mile circuit around Box Hill, which the riders spun around a total of nine times. But the peloton, which was led by British riders almost continuously throughout the nearly six-hour race, never managed to close the gap.  
British cycling fans had been fired up by Bradley Wiggins, who just six days ago became the first British cyclist ever to win the Tour de France. “Allez Wiggo” signs cheered the champion down the route, which saw spectators lining up three or four deep in places. Some had lugged stepladders from home so that they could get a clearer view over the crowds.
“It’s a fever pitch among the natives, so to speak,” said Frank McCluskey, a shopkeeper from Kingston Upon Thames, a London suburb. McCluskey had come out to cheer the riders through Bushy Park, which the riders passed through early in the race.
“I want Team GB to do well,” McCluskey added, using the popular term for the British Olympic squad, “but it’s great just to see the competition.”
The course started and ended along the Mall, the famous stretch of road that lies in the shadow of Buckingham Palace. It stretched deep into the suburban county of Surrey, boasting 42 miles of road barriers and 5,000 traffic cones. More than 6,000 volunteers helped shepherd spectators and keep cars out of the racers’ way.
All seemed to go well, and even Britain’s famously fickle weather managed to cooperate. Temperatures hovered around 70 degrees throughout the day, and there wasn’t a raindrop in sight.
“Box Hill, butterflies, fluffy white clouds and village pubs – what a blissful opening Olympics image to the world,” the British writer Gareth Huw Davies tweeted midway through the race.
Even Cavendish, who ended up placing a disappointing 29th overall, admitted to being impressed by the crowds along the route.  
“It was disappointing, but I couldn’t be more proud,” the visibly exhausted rider told the BBC in an interview just after the race. “It was tremendous the whole way round. It was something to remember forever.”

IN PICTURES: Today at the Olympics

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