Roche holds hand up over 'tactical error'
Nicolas Roche and Irish team-mates Dan Martin and David McCann were left ruing a missed medal opportunity on Saturday when they changed tactics midway through the Olympic road race and put all their money on the British team reeling in a large breakaway group before the finish.
"My intention was to go with the moves on the climb," said Roche. "On the third lap, I attacked with Sylvain Chavanel (France), Cadel Evans (Australia) and a few others, but GB brought us back so quickly that I thought there was no chance for the earlier breakaway to stay clear.
"I changed tactics then and decided to stick with Cav and Wiggo and let them ride flat out and bring everything back. Two laps later, a few more guys went on the climb. I sat there and watched them go, thinking GB were going to do the same thing but they didn't, so that was a mistake. I should have continued riding aggressively as, realistically, that was my only chance of a medal. I wasn't going to beat Mark Cavendish or Andre Greipel in a bunch sprint anyway."
As the chase group merged up ahead with the earlier escapees, it soon became apparent that the mighty British team that dominated last year's world road race championships to give Cavendish an armchair ride to the title had become victims of their own success.
They were left on their own at the head of the peloton, with just four riders chasing a 30-strong breakaway group, which included some of the stars of world cycling.
"I felt like I was just a number in the bunch after that," said Roche. "I was useless. My dad even rang me and asked me if I missed the start. That's the kind of feeling I had too. I said I was going to do this and that and go with the moves. I did it once, but once wasn't enough. I should have tried again."
Despite a valiant effort by the British squad, the breakaway group stayed clear until the finish on the Mall where Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan outsprinted Rigoberto Uran of Colombia for the gold medal, with Norway's Alexander Kristoff edging out young American Taylor Phinney for bronze, eight seconds later.
"We can't make excuses," said Cavendish after finishing 40 seconds down at the head of the peloton.
"We did everything as we said we'd do it and more. We couldn't pull the group back on Box Hill. It seems like most teams are happy to lose as long as we don't win.
"There were 70 guys in our group at the finish. I don't understand why there's only three guys riding. It doesn't make sense. That's the story of our life now in cycling.
"It shows what a strong nation we are and we've got to take the positives from that and take it as a compliment. The team were incredible.
"We controlled it with four guys for 250km, going 60kph for the last hour and we couldn't do more. We are human beings. They left everything out on the road.
"I am so proud of them. The guys were incredible. I couldn't be more proud of them. But it's bitterly disappointing."
In Vinokourov, who was banned for two years for blood doping in 2007, the IOC may not have the ideal Olympic gold medallist, but the 38-year-old Kazakh, who has never admitted any wrongdoing, barely broached the subject yesterday.
"It's not the time to talk about these issues, but I think cycling has changed and a lot is being done to fight doping. I came back to the sport and I showed people that I can still win," said Vinokourov, who first announced his retirement after his doping ban and then again last year after a crash which broke his femur in the Tour de France.
After his gold medal-winning ride, he announced once more that he would hang up his wheels, this time after the Olympic time trial on Wednesday.
"Since I made a lot of effort to come back to the sport, I said to myself I would do one more year to try and end my career with the cherry on the cake," said the Kazakh, adding that he liked the idea of going out on top, like Richard Virenque -- one of the sport's most infamous dopers -- who Vinokourov described as a "great champion".