Jack Bauer rode the race of his life to finish a creditable 10th in the Olympic cycling road race, as his ill New Zealand team-mate Greg Henderson and the powerhouse Great Britain lineup rued what might have been.
Bauer, at his first Olympics, joined a break near the halfway point of the 250km race in warm sunshine in London.
He bravely clung on, battling painful cramps to still be in medal contention down the final stretch on The Mall, before missing out in the bunch sprint for bronze.
Ageless Kazakhstan wonder Alexandr Vinokourov, 39, won gold, beating Colombian Rigoberto Uran Uran in the final sprint after the pair burst clear in the final few kilometres.
Norway's Alexander Kristoff claimed the bronze, 8sec behind in a bunch of 23 riders including Bauer, American Taylor Phinney (fourth) and Australian Stuart O'Grady (sixth).
New Zealand's top hope Henderson withdrew on the fifth of eight laps of the Box Hill circuit after suffering a bad stomach upset, while Great Britain couldn't propel gold medal favourite Mark Cavendish to victory after their four other riders sat at the head of the peloton and didn't respond to the breakaway.
Cavendish finished 29th, alongside top German sprinter Andre Greipel (27th), both 40sec off the pace.
An exhausted Bauer, who will back up in the individual time trial on Wednesday, didn't know Henderson had withdrawn until after he crossed the line.
"I haven't seen him since the halfway point and he mentioned to me that he wasn't feeling flash. We had decided earlier that should some of the bigger nations start sending people up the road then I would try and follow," Bauer said.
"Belgium and Italy did that and I followed [Philippe] Gilbert and [Vincenzo] Nibali with four laps to go and we formed a group of about 12 and reeled in the original break and stayed away by 50sec."
Asked if he still harboured hopes of a medal in the final stages, Bauer said: "Of course you do. But I was really struggling with 20km to go. I just started cramping up really badly and the weather was a bit warmer than I expected. Hydration is always hard and I started cramping pretty bad. I'm happy."
Henderson, riding his first road race at his fifth Olympics, cut a disconsolate figure. The 35-year-old was baffled as to what caused his illness after feeling strong at the start of the race.
"For me it's super upsetting because you have such a high of the Tour de France and perform with distinction there, and then you end on such a low. It's one of those things out of my control," said Henderson, who was one of 34 of the 144-strong field not to finish.
"I just had to stop. I just had bad, bad, bad diarrhoea. Sometimes if you get it during a stage race if it's an easy part of the circuit there's a chance of coming back. But the gas is on with three laps to go and unfortunately that was my race, I knew it was.
"But hats off to Jack. We spoke a couple of laps earlier and he said 'when should I start looking' and I said 'they're going to start attacking soon'. We stuck to our gameplan, I'll look after myself for the sprint and he can start going with moves. Perfect, what an amazing ride."
Linda Villumsen is the solitary New Zealander in the women's road race, starting at 11pm (NZT).
- © Fairfax NZ News