LONDON — Clad in the colors of the Union Jack, hundreds of thousands of English fans packed the city’s roadways to watch the best cyclists in the world wind their way through town. Prince Charles was there at the starting line, and if she chose, Queen Elizabeth II could have peeked out a window of Buckingham Palace and watched the riders sprint toward the finish.
Odds are, she wouldn’t have recognized what was happening. The final results surprised many, and the race itself is one most competitors won’t soon forget.
“It was insane,” American Chris Horner said, “but to a degree where it was absolutely probably the most dangerous and crazy race I’ve ever done. For sure.”
After all the thrills and spills, the heavily-favored Britain riders, just one week removed from a historic finish at the Tour de France, failed to medal on their home course. Instead, Kazakhstan’s Alexander Vinokourov outsprinted Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran and won the 155-mile race in a time of 5 hours 45 minutes 57 seconds.
“I don't think either of us had very much left,” Uran said. ”I looked to my right and Alexander took off. I didn’t have any energy left.”
The 38-year old Vinokourov served a two-year ban for blood doping during the 2007 Tour de France and said Saturday he will now retire from the sport.
“I finish my career with this victory,” he said.
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff was third, barely edging American Taylor Phinney, the race’s surprising fourth-place finisher.
Britain’s top finisher was heavily-favored Mark Cavendish, who was the 28th rider to cross the line. They entered these Olympics with a lot of momentum, and Cavendish had dubbed them the “dream team.” Four of the five Britain riders won a stage on the Tour de France, which featured a historic win for Bradley Wiggins. But on Saturday, the talented Brits stayed behind the lead group the entire race and failed to make any sort of push late, struggling to work around their competitors.
“Other teams were content that if they didn’t win, we wouldn’t win,” Cavendish said.
“I think they were overconfident,” South Africa’s Daryl Impey said.
The event proved to be one of the most popular for locals. Tickets weren’t required for most of the course, and hundreds of thousands of people lined up to see the London Games up close. Fans were crammed on either side of the road, often several people deep, and a loud cheer followed the cyclists throughout the city.
“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” German cyclist Andre Greipel said. “There was not a single spot to pee.”
For some riders, the problems were bigger than not having a convenient place for a restroom break. Horner said the crush of people and the narrow roads made the race dangerous.
Television cameras captured a dog at one point running amid the riders. And numerous times, fans stepped too far into the roadway to get a better view of oncoming cyclists.
“I saw one rider just before we got on the circuit,” Horner said. “This guy’s taking a picture two feet out in the road. He didn’t jump out of the way. The rider smacked him hard. He went through the middle of the field and crashed 15-20 people. The spectator went flying into the crowd — literally, flew into the crowd — and took out some more people.
“It was absolutely the scariest I have ever been in a bike race.”
Photos: Scenes from the London Olympics