LONDON (Reuters) - Mark Cavendish’s thunderous face as he finished 29th in the Olympics men’s road race on Saturday told the story of a ferocious sprinter accustomed to gleefully reeling in his prey in the closing stages.
With a world-class team helping him, a home crowd roaring him on at every corner and fired up by a Britain’s recent one-two in the Tour de France, the gold seemed destined for the world champion.
Until a 32-man breakaway of the highest quality decided to up the tempo that is.
Attack-minded Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov upset the planned sprint finish for Cavendish to take the gold, with Colombian Rigoberto Uran second and Norway’s Alexander Kristoff third.
So often reeled in by the peloton, this time the riders at the front notched up a triumph on the biggest stage to leave the medalists beaming and Cavendish seething.
“We expected teams to come and chase at the end with us. We controlled it with four guys for 250km and we couldn’t do more. We are human beings,” said Cavendish, who had a look of disgust on his face as he crossed the line.
“We couldn’t pull them back. The four guys who ran all day couldn’t do it,” he said of further Olympic disappointment after being the only British track cyclist to go home empty handed from Beijing.
“The Germans came a bit too late and the other teams seemed to be more content that they wouldn’t win as long as we didn’t win. That’s kind of how it goes.”
American Chris Horner said Cavendish was a victim of his own success over the past few years that has including racking up 23 Tour de France stage wins and the world road race championship last year.
“Cav is that dominant that nobody wants to come to the line with him under any circumstances,” said Horner, munching on some fast food after the 249.5-km slog in and out of London.
“That’s everybody’s tactic,” he told reporters.
Horner said the British team’s tactics were spot on and in the unpredictable world of Olympic road race cycling they were just unlucky.
Canadian Ryder Hesjedal was left scratching his head over the puzzling upset.
“It was so scatty the way Britain rode. They were in total control and it seemed like it would stay that way,” the Giro d‘Italia champion told reporters.
“The gap wasn’t that big but the leaders worked well together. It didn’t seem like the move was going to stick.”
Stick it did. The breakaway group left the British five-man team for dead after nine circuits of Box Hill.
“I don’t know what happened. Lots of guys were attacking but it didn’t seem like they were going to go anywhere,” added Hesjedal.
Cavendish paid tribute to his team mates’s efforts.
“I can be proud of how the lads rode today. I‘m proud of my country as there was incredible support. The guys are sat there, they are spent. They have got nothing left in the tank.”
Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins pedaled past waiting media in stunned silence while all Tour runner-up Chris Froome could manage was: “Sorry, I‘m so hungry,” which drew praise from Cavendish.
“It’s incredible to see that. To see what they gave for the cause.”
Editing by Alison Williams and Alison Wildey