Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan this afternoon pulled off a shock win in the men's Olympic road race, attacking from a big breakaway group with Rigoberto Uran as the race headed into its closing kilometres and then catching the Colombian off-guard to sprint to the line. Norway's Alexander Kristoff won the sprint from a group of around 25 riders for bronze. Mark Cavendish, the pre-race favourite, came home in the main bunch following a race that his Great Britain team seeemed to have under control as it headed over Box Hill for the ninth and final time, but the big escape group managed to draw out and maintain a minute's advantage that proved impossible to claw back.
Just 12 months ago, Vinokorurov's career seemed finished after he broke his femur in a crash during the Tour de France and announced his retirement.
Last September, however, the same month he turned 38, he revealed that he planned to race again this year with ambitions to win Olympic gold.
He has now fulfilled that goal to crown a career in which his attacking style brought him a string of prestigious victories but which was overshadowed by his testing positive for an illegal blood tranfusion during the 2007 Tour de France which led to a two year ban from the sport.
The prologue to that race had taken place in London, with the route taking the riders past Buckingham Palace. Today, Vinoukorov rode past it again, but this time he was heading towards a gold medal.
Sitting on Uran's wheel, Vinokourov's experience paid off when he launched a blindside attack on the Colombian, who had turned to check how far back the chasing group was.
In truth, though, the Kazakh rider had been favourite for the sprint once the pair had jumped clear on Putney High Street with a little under 8 kilometres to go and quickly drawn out an advantage on their fellow escapees.
That group had formed on the final ascent of Box Hill as a number of strong riders realised that if they didn't make their move now, the race would almost inevitably come down to a sprint on The Mall.
Cheered on by huge crowds throughout the race, Great Britain's team of Bradley Wiggins, Ian Stannard, Chris Froome and David Millar had put in a massive effort at the front of the main bunch all day to keep a smaller, earlier break in check and slowly reel it in.
Belgium's Philippe Gilbert had launched a solo attack ahead of the last lap of the Box Hill loop, but he seemed to have gone too early and it looked as though he would be allowed to hang out in front until being swept up as the race headed towards its finale.
Meanwhile, the earlier break looked set to be caught as Great Britain led the chasing bunch towards the ascent of Zig-Zag Road for the last time. The race seemed certain to be heading towards the predicted bunch sprint won by world champion Cavendish in front of a home crowd.
Great Britain's entire strategy for the race revolved around that scenario. There was no Plan B. Ben Swift who might have been expected to try and get into any dangerous looking breaks and then try and win a sprint, was overlooked in the final selection of five riders.
The script for last night's opening ceremony, years in the writing, saw a last-minute change to allow Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins to take the cheers of the crowd and ring the bell to get the spectacle under way. Today's script was not so much rewritten, however, as ripped up and scattered across the road.
The group that got away was full of dangerous riders. Besides Vinokourov, it contained the man who won that Tour de France prologue in London five years ago, Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara. Also there was Tom Boonen of Belgium, the man who dominated this year's Classics season, plus Spain's Alejandro Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez, both winners of Tour de France stages earlier this month.
A group that dangerous didn't need much of gap to make it a difficult task for Great Britain's riders, now tired by having spent aorund 200 kilometres at the front of the peloton with no help from other countries, to pull it back.
Once the gap was out to a minute, it stayed there, despite the efforts of Wiggins, Froome, Millar and Stannard, also assisted by Cavendish's close friend Bernard Eisel of Austria, to bring the escapees back.
Germany, working for Andre Greipel, finally decided to help in the chase as the race headed into its closing kilometres, but it was far too late for their efforts to count.
From the breakaway group, Cancellara or Boonen might have been many people's pick for the gold medal, but the Swiss rider, awarded the silver medal in Beijing following Davide Rebellin's disqualification for doping, crashed on a corner with a little over 15 kilometres to go.
With his right wrist resting on his handlebars as he drifted back to the race doctor's car, it looked as though he may have broken his collarbone for the second time this season.
If that is indeed what has happened, he could well be doubtful for Wednesday's individual time trial, where he is the defending champion.
Boonen also encountered some kind of problem and fell back to the Cavendish group, which would roll over the line 40 seconds behind the winner and around half a minute down on the main breakaway group, although victory had long since evaded the man who went into the race shouldering the host nation's expectations this morning.
Olympic men's road race result
1 VINOKOUROV Alexandre Kazakhstan 5:45:57
2 URAN Rigoberto Colombia Same time
3 KRISTOFF Alexander Norway 5:46:05
4 PHINNEY Taylor USA All at same time
5 LAGUTIN Sergey Uzbekistan
6 O'GRADY Stuart Australia
7 ROELANDTS Jurgen Belgium
8 RAST Gregory Switzerland
9 PAOLINI Luca Italy
10 BAUER Jack New Zealand
11 BOOM Lars Netherlands
12 FUGLSANG Jakob Denmark
13 COSTA Rui Portugal
14 SANCHEZ Luis Leon Spain
15 KREUZIGER Roman Czech Republic
16 HENAO Sergio Colombia
17 GRIVKO Andriy Ukraine
18 Spain VALVERDE Alejandro Spain
19 GILBERT Philippe Belgium
20 CHAVANEL Sylvain France
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