London: Alexander Vinokourov of Kazakhstan surprisingly took the gold medal in the men`s cycling road race at the London Olympics here today, winning a two-man sprint to the finish after favorite Mark Cavendish had dropped out of contention.
Vinokourov, who served a two-year ban after testing positive for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France, has said he will retire from cycling after the London Games.
Vinokourov is certainly going out in style, breaking away from the leading group about 10 kilometers from the finish together with Rigoberto Uran of Colombia. Vinokourov then accelerated going down The Mall outside Buckingham Palace with 300 meters to go to leave Uran in his wake.
"It`s just unbelievable," Vinokourov said. "I finished the Tour de France a little tired, but the Olympics, I must go there."
Uran took silver, with Alexander Kristoff of Norway winning a mass sprint to claim bronze. Vinokourov made sure to avoid a bunch sprint by pulling away from the lead pack and avoiding any chances of collisions near the end.
"It was up-down, up-down, too many people," Vinokourov said. "It was very dangerous. I knew that if was following the group I would have had no chance in the sprint. I finish my career with this victory."
Vinokourov was third at the 2003 Tour but had his reputation tainted after testing positive for banned blood transfusions during the 2007 three-week race.
This was his second Olympic medal after taking silver in the road race in Sydney in 2000. It was a disappointing day for world champion Cavendish and the rest of the British team, which came into the Olympics full of confidence after Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour last weekend.
The home team tried to control the 250-kilometer race from the start but could not prevent the final breakaway to succeed as Cavendish finished in the main bunch.
"What we needed was a couple of guys to help us," British road captain David Millar said. "The Germans came up but we needed some help."
The Brits will have another chance to claim gold in front of their home crowd, with Wiggins the favorite to win the time trial next Wednesday.
Cycling is more popular than ever in Britain after Wiggins` Tour victory, and Prince Charles and his wife Camilla met the British team before the race started from the Mall, with the peloton heading southwest through London.
Hundreds of thousands of fans lined the course to greet the riders with raucous applause, although not all of them exhibited exemplary behavior as a big black dog twice crossed the road in front of the riders.
With Cavendish seen as nearly unbeatable in a sprint, other teams tried to attack from the start to make things difficult for the Brits -- and it worked.
Veteran Australian Stuart O`Grady ignited the first real move, breaking clear of the peloton and bringing along a group of 11 men. The escapees opened up a three-minute gap over the peloton, forcing the British favorites to work early as Wiggins and his teammates moved to the front of the bunch.
The Brits were put to the test in each of the nine climbs of Box Hill, with one-day-classics specialist Philippe Gilbert of Belgium and Italian Vincenzo Nibali managing to escape from the peloton to join the leading group.
While more and more riders pushed ahead, the Brits could not respond.
Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara was among the riders to join the leading group as it returned to London, but crashed with about 15 kilometers to go when he was at the head of the bunch. Cancellara completely misjudged a right-hand turn and slammed into the barricades. He got back up but with his elbow bleeding, and couldn`t keep up with the pace after that.