An incredibly demanding day on the bike led to a hectic day of attacks and counter-attacks. In the end, it came down to a group of three as Van Avermaet (Belgium), Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) and Rafal Majka (Poland) took gold, silver and bronze, respectively.
"When I saw the crash I was confused about how many riders were still up the road," Van Avermaet said.
"I was working with [Jakob] Fuglsang, and we saw [Rafal] Majka. We knew it was possible," he continued. "I knew I had to hang on. I am so happy for gold."
Many had predicted the winner as being someone with more climbing pedigree that Van Avermaet, and the perception of it being a climbers' course even saw Peter Sagan withdraw and switch to mountain biking.
"Everyone said all week it was for everyone else," the Belgian said, proving all predictions wrong.
When speaking after taking silver, Fuglsang commented on the crash that saw Nibali and Sergio Henao crash out of medal winning positions.
"Sometimes it pays not to take risks. After the first climb I saw there was a bump on the road on the corner so I took it a little easier," he said.
"I knew the medals were in play, and I looked back and no one was working so I attacked. I'm very happy to take a medal at these Olympics."
Watch our guide to the road race and time trial
The final step on the podium was taken by Rafal Majka, who had been away on his own after Nibali went down in front of him.
"I don't know how I did not crash but somehow I made it through," he said. "In the end I had such hard cramps in my legs I could barely pedal. When the others caught me I knew that it was impossible to win.
"To come here to win bronze makes me so happy. I cannot believe it."
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