Five talking points from the Tokyo Olympics men's road race

Richard Carapaz took Ecuador's second-ever gold medal

Richard Carapaz makes history

Richard Carapaz

(Image credit: Getty)

Richard Carapaz has previously spoken about cycling's low visibility in Ecuador, even since his Giro d'Italia victory in 2019 and recent third place at the Tour de France, yet his Olympics road race win could yet provide the boost he wants for his sport in his home country.

When he crossed the finish line first, having escaped off the front in the closing kilometres alongside USA's Brandon McNulty, then evading the Wout van Aert-led chase from behind, he made history for his country as he won just their second Olympic gold medal.

It's been a 25-year wait since their first gold, won by Jefferson Pérez in the men's 20km walking event in 1996, and should result in Carapaz becoming a more widely known national hero.

His win was a smart one, choosing the right moment to attack, having stayed in contention up the toughest climb of the day, the Mikuni Pass, within the final 35km of the day, then making his move off the front on the final climb of the day, then dispensing with Brandon McNulty as he sensed the American's legs soften and the chase starting to close in behind, powering away to cross the line alone.

While he will no doubt have been pleased with his third place at the recent Tour de France, this win will make up for any regret of not being able to make podium's top step in Paris. Now, when does Greg Van Avermaet hand over the gold helmet?

Wout van Aert, the new eternal second?

Wout van Aert

(Image credit: Getty)

Second in the 2020 Worlds road race, second in the 2020 Worlds time trial, second at the 2021 Cyclocross Worlds and now second in the 2021 Olympics road race.

While the grandson of the original eternal second, Raymond Poulidor, has not competed in the road events as he aims for mountain bike gold, it's Mathieu van der Poel's rival Wout van Aert who seems to have found space for a number of prestigious runner-up placings alongside his already-brimming palmarès.

It was always going to take something special for the Belgian to claim victory, his wins at the Tour de France over Ventoux, in the time trial and on the Champs-Élysées marked him out as the pre-race favourite, and his rivals were all too aware of this.

After Van Aert's helpers had fallen away, Tiesj Benoot and Mauri Vansevenant having tried to keep things together for as long as possible, it then became a game of poker, as the Belgian leader had to gamble on which attacks to chase down and which to let go up the road.

When Pogačar went away on the Mikuni Pass, Van Aert gambled successfully that the Tour champion would be brought back, but after leading the pursuit of McNulty and Carapaz, the Ecuadorian had the energy to pounce again to evade the Belgian, who was never going to receive full-hearted assistance from opponents he was only going to beat in a sprint finish.

And win the sprint he did, edging out Pogačar to take silver, he'll be hoping to upgrade it for a gold in Wednesday's individual time trial.

Bronze for Pogačar, as Slovenians show their strength once more

Slovenia at the Tokyo Olympics

(Image credit: Getty)

It looked ominous once more when Tadej Pogačar sprung from the front on the Mikuni Pass. After all, we've just watched a Tour de France in which he utterly dominated.

But his legs seemed to have finally tired, though, as he couldn't prise himself free, falling back into the fold.

Jan Tratnik had already done a monumental amount of work on the front, setting things up for both Pogačar and Roglič, but into the closing kilometres the older Slovenian fell away, perhaps still hurt from his Tour-ending injury, perhaps rusty after not making it all the way to Paris - in fact it seemed to be those who'd ridden the whole Tour who proved fresher, rather than those who skipped or left the French Grand Tour early in order to prepare for today.

Pogačar hung in there despite his failed move, marked alongside Wout van Aert, and in the sprint it looked as if he'd pipped the Belgian to second place, before the photo finish reversed the order. A good result for the 22-year-old who will have countless more opportunities to try and improve on this silver.

Geraint Thomas' bad luck continues

Geraint Thomas

(Image credit: Getty)

Geraint Thomas is convinced he did something bad in a past life, that's the only way he can explain his continuing bad luck in bike races.

He crashed out of the Giro d'Italia 2020, a fall ended his GC ambitions at the 2021 Tour de France, and now another tumble which saw his Tokyo Olympics road race ambitions disappear.

Tao Geoghegan Hart hit a metal ridge in the middle of the road, going straight down and taking Thomas with him, the Welshman having been on the wheel of his younger team-mate.

Thomas soldiered on until the sanctity of the first crossing of the finish line, climbing off with 60km remaining as the Yates brothers put in a strong showing for GB.

Thomas was more exasperated than anything after the finish, having shaken his head as he remounted in the race, in disbelief at his continued run of poor fortune.

He'll go again in Wednesday's time trial, to try and take something from the hard work put in this year towards these main goals that have vanished into thin air in the blink of an eye.

A rare sighting of fans in Japan

Tokyo Olympics

(Image credit: Getty)

Held outside of Tokyo, the road race could therefore accommodate restricted numbers of fans, a few dotted about around the course and then a gaggle at the finish line. 

Of course, cheering bans have been implemented, but that didn't stop the Japanese fans from partaking in the time-honoured tradition of banging the barriers inside the final few hundred metres at the arrival of first Richard Carapaz and then the sprint for second.

For the participants, who've grown used to having quieter roadsides than usual during the coronavirus pandemic, they'll be in the minority this Games at having spectators present at their event. For the local fans, it's a chance for them to take part in their home Olympics.

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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.

Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).

I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.