LONDON (AFP) — Mark Cavendish said the very strength of the British road cycling team worked against him as his bid for Olympic road race gold ended in failure on the streets of London on Saturday.
Several teams gave themselves a chance of victory by sending riders into the breakaways that lit up the 249.5km race.
Britain, however, decided to keep all its men behind to stay fresh for supporting Isle of Man sprinter Cavendish — a tactic that forced them to take almost sole responsibility for the chase.
But after nearly 200km of driving a hard pace at the front of the chasing peloton, Britain had little response when a 32-man break escaped inside the last 40km and produced the winner in Alexander Vinokourov.
“It just seems like the other teams are happy not to win as long as we don’t win,” said world champion Cavendish, who finished down the field in a lowly 29th place despite having Bradley Wiggins, the first British winner of the Tour de France six days earlier, at his side.
“It’s the story of our life in road cycling, it shows what a strong nation we are,” he added. “You’ve got to take the positives from that and take it as a compliment, but it’s bitterly disappointing.”
However, riders from rival nations said the Brits had only themselves to blame for failing to deliver Cavendish to the victory.
“They lost the race a little bit because they were so strong,” Belgian contender Tom Boonen told AFP. “They were racing hard and acting like they didn’t need any help.”
Kazakh veteran Vinokourov said he knew Britain could not sustain its early pace.
“On the last lap I realized that Britain was not riding fast any more and that they were getting tired and that some people were trying to get away,” said Vinokourov.
“I knew that there was a group up the road of about 10 riders with one minute advantage on me. So we just pulled out and we ended up in a group of about 35 riders.”
Britain’s David Millar said many nations had raced to make sure the hosts did not win.
“We lost out, but a lot of teams lost out by planning the race against us,” said Millar, Britain’s captain on the road.
“But we expected that. We can’t complain because everyone knew what we were going to try and do, so it was their job to try and derail us. Which they did.
“All we needed was three fresh riders to come up but everyone was just exhausted and most of the guys had teammates up the road.”