Vino to Wiggo, Olympic cycling filled with drama
From Vino to Wiggo to a British team bent on perfection, there was no shortage of storylines at the London Olympics, and no lack of drama during the cycling program.
There was Alexander Vinokourov winning gold in the men's road race, ruining the dreams of British fans hoping to see their own Mark Cavendish lead the field down the Mall, and the sight of Dutch star Marianne Vos roaring through the rain to win the women's race.
There was Kristin Armstrong's time trial title defense, and the sound of a massive crowd packed around Hampton Court Palace as Bradley Wiggins - fresh of his Tour de France triumph - delivered the home nation the gold medal in the men's time trial.
And of course, there were the Twitter pictures of his vodka-and-tonic celebration.
There was the British team's sheer dominance in the velodrome, where Chris Hoy added two more gold medals to run his total to six, and the tearful adieu by Victoria Pendleton to professional cycling when she won gold in the keirin and silver in the sprint.
There were the crashes over the BMX course, the blistering sun that marked two days of mountain biking, and crowds at every venue threatening to burst through the barricades.
''When you have the chance to perform at the home games, you have to be at your own personal best, and you can't ask for more than personal excellence,'' said Dave Brailsford, who put together a British team that won seven of the 10 track cycling gold medals.
''Our job,'' he said, ''was to make sure that every single rider who walked onto that track was going to perform to a higher level than they ever had in their careers.''
In retrospect, the British team mostly achieved that.
Nobody knew that'd be the case when the heavily favored team struggled in the men's road race.
Shepherded around the course by Wiggins, Chris Froome and a slew of Tour veterans, Cavendish missed the deciding break and was never in contention. Vinokourov took advantage to win gold in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, putting to rest any notion that he could win cleanly.
Vino, as he's known, not long ago served a two-year ban for blood doping.
''I proved that I can come back and race and be good on the bike,'' Vinokourov said. ''Cycling has changed a lot, organizers and the UCI have done a lot to fight doping.''
The sting of the British defeat was eased the following day when Elizabeth Armitstead delivered silver behind Vos. It was assuaged even more the following week, when Wiggins - perhaps Sir Wiggo, later this year? - followed Armstrong's time trial victory with his own.
Wiggins sped over the course in the English countryside to win his fourth Olympic gold medal, and then made good on his promise to get ''a bit drunk'' during his victory celebration.
He didn't spend too much time getting tanked, though. Wiggins was back in the London Velodrome a few days later to watch his former teammates tear up the pine wood.
World records started to fall as the British team set sight on the seven gold medals it won in Beijing, even though new rules limited each nation to one rider per event.
Britain's gold rush started with the men's team sprint, and only gained momentum with team pursuit wins by the men and women. Hoy and Pendleton captured keirin titles, and Jason Kenny added to his team sprint gold by dominating the individual sprint against French rival Gregory Bauge.
''It's like Beijing all over again,'' Kenny said. ''It just feels like every time we get on the track, we win something. It seems to be this knock-on effect where once the first person has won that first gold then it just seems to boost everyone for the next one.''
The British dominance reached the point where rival teams accused them of using ''magic wheels,'' and argued that the home nation had other unfair technological advances.
All the technology in the world didn't help when the BMX competition started.
Shanaze Reade was among the favorites in the women's race, and didn't disappoint by advancing to the final. But the British hope struggled under the weight of a nation, and Mariana Pajon of Colombia won the winner-take-all medal race for her country's first gold medal in London.
Maris Strombergs of Latvia defended his gold in the men's race, capping a three-day program marked by spectacular crashes that drew David Beckham and other curious fans to the BMX course.
The cycling finale happened about an hour east of London, in the countryside of Essex, where Julie Bresset of France and Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic won mountain biking gold.
Bresset won with a daring attack and rode solo to the finish on Saturday, and Kulhavy engaged in a dramatic duel with Swiss rider Nino Schurter, beating him to the finish in the natural amphitheater of Hadleigh Farm by a single second after nearly 90 minutes of racing.
Kulhavy may have summed up the feelings of all the cyclists who managed to win gold, or even a medal, when he wiped sweat from his brow and said, ''It's the best moment of my life.''
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.