Summer Olympics 2012: Alexandre Vinokourov Triumphs in Cycling Road Race
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It is a bit of a shame that Alexandre Vinokourov, winner of London 2012's first cycling gold in the men's road race, isn't Australian.
There is probably not a more apt nickname for the 38-year-old than "boomerang," such is the way he has kept coming back around from quite severe setbacks throughout his long career
Vino is in fact a proud Kazakh and a countrywide sporting emblem synonymous in recent years with the national team of Kazakhstan, often to be found on the attack in the world's biggest bike races.
Back in 2007 Kazakhstan was not so proud of its favourite son after he tested positive for blood doping during that year's Tour de France; it prompted his retirement and what seemed a disappointing conclusion to the career of a cyclist who had captivated so many for so long.
Changing his mind, Vinokourov returned to the sport in 2009 after serving the remainder of a two-year ban.
Despite his earlier indiscretion, it was to the credit of the Astana man that upon his return he went about conducting himself in the best way possible, putting on some notable displays including winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2010.
Such was Vinokourov's relative redemption, a crash during the 2011 Tour de France in what was meant to be his retirement year seemed to mean an unfair and untimely end to his career.
Instead the Kazakh came back for one more ride around, and after a solid if unremarkable 2012 so far, he has made the headlines once more for the right seasons with an excellent victory on the first real day of the Olympics.
Vinokourov found his way into the breakaway that maintained the best part of a minute lead on the peloton coming out of the nine, tiring circuits of Box Hill in Surrey, just outside of London, in what was an aggressive race in the hunt for gold.
Making his way back into the capital, Vino cleverly got on the wheel of Rigoberto Uran's attack with just a few kilometers remaining.
Having escaped all the way onto the culminating roads around Buckingham Palace and onto The Mall, a brief look over the shoulder by Uran proved costly for the Colombian.
The experienced Vinokourov took his chance and sped away comfortably for the win and a gold medal, understandably delighted as he was congratulated by teammates and well-wishers alike.
Uran finished second to take silver, while Norway's Alexander Kristoff performed superbly to get the bronze.
It was not the finish many had predicted, with the escape of the breakaway group rendering pointless the efforts of the British team to reel them back in so as to set up native world champion Mark Cavendish for a sprint finish.
Cavendish was not alone on missing out here, with others hoping for suitably frantic conclusions—like Andre Greipel, Peter Sagan and Tom Boonen—also nowhere to be seen in the hunt for medals.
Great Britain's five-man squad (aided by the Austrian and Cavendish's Sky teammate Bernhard Eisel for much of the race) toiled hard for the majority of the 250 km course and on Box Hill looked to have the race in control as it brought down the time gap between them and the breakaway groups from six minutes to under one.
Understandably, many riders in the peloton were loathe to help the British with compatriots already ahead, but the lack of assistance from the Germans was baffling. Without a breakaway presence, their laziness ended up costing their own sprint man, Andre Greipel.
At the UCI World Championships last year, Britain's nine-man squad was superb in controlling the race, but five evidently was not enough this time around to dominate in the same fashion, with so many others attacking.
Both the British and the Germans suffered without someone ahead along the road, if not to compete themselves then at least to hinder any escape the best they could.
The roadside support was certainly something they could be proud of, while the mostly British crowd that lined the streets of London and Surrey certainly could not fault the efforts of the home team.
It means yet more Olympic heartbreak for Cavendish, following his disappointment in Beijing four years ago, when the "Manx Missile" left the Tour de France early so as to be ready for the Madison track event.
A fatigued Bradley Wiggins (having already competed and won two gold medals) was not at his best, and the pair fell short, leaving Cavendish the only member of the track team to go home without a medal.
Wiggins cannot be faulted this time, but it is frustrating for the British team (and fans) as a whole, which had earmarked this race long ago as one for Cavendish.
He will go without Olympic glory for another four years at least, and the Great Britain's pinpointed first chance for a gold in their home Games goes unfulfilled, too.
For Vinokourov and Kazakhstan, London 2012 could not have gotten off to a better start.
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