Greg Van Avermaet proved the strongest rider in a very small group as he won the Rio 2016 Olympic men's road race
Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) won the men’s Olympic road race after a long and hectic race in and around Rio. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) came over in second for silver with Rafal Majka (Poland) completing the podium.
Majka had been away on his own after Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) and Sergio Henao (Colombia) both crashed on the final descent.
Fuglsang attacked first out of the chasing group first and Van Avermaet went with him. They caught Majka with 1.5km to go and the trio raced for the finish line. Majka had nothing left when the Belgian ramped it up and Fuglsang couldn’t get back on his wheel, losing by a bike length.
Such a long day saw much of the action packed into the latter stages of the brutal race, with attacks, counter-attacks, and ever changing groups characterising the day. At times it was hard to keep track of who was doing what in each group on the road.
The attritional rate was huge and very few of the starters were left once the real action kicked off.
A very early breakaway went, following an even earlier but futile attempt from Tony Martin (Germany).
The six riders who got away had a maximum advantage approaching eight minutes. The presence of former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) made the early escapee group more threatening than we would have expected at such an early stage, but they were always going to be brought back.
Kwiatkowski was joined by Simon Geschke (Germany), Jarlison Pantano (Colombia), Michael Albasini (Switzerland), Sven Erik Bystrom (Norway) and Pavel Kochetkov (Russia).
Although short and not appearing as brutal as the pavé we see at Paris-Roubaix, riders and bikes suffered on the sector with crashes, dropped chains and punctures.
Two big name riders who suffered early on were Van Avermaet and Bauke Mollema (the Netherlands).
The Belgian rode on a flat for quite a way before his team could get up to him with a new wheel, while the Dutchman first took a wheel and then needed a complete bike change before he could get on his way.
Both riders were still within the cars so the chase back on wasn’t as tough as it could have been.
Earlier in the day, Tom Dumoulin withdrew from the race due to his ambitions in the time trial on Wednesday August 10. A later effect of this was one fewer support rider for Mollema, who changed bikes again several kilometres later.
Stannard was back on the front where we’ve grown accustomed to seeing him over the past few seasons. His day was done around the same time that a split formed in the peloton on the cobbles as the Czech team took up the pace.
Adam Yates (Great Britain) was the wrong side of the split but Steve Cummings, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome were all safely to the front. Cummings put the hammer down and soon some big names such as Wout Poels (the Netherlands) were in trouble.
Yates charged off the front of the second peloton in the hope of bridging over to him teammates but it looked to be a wasted effort and he moved back into the chasing group.
All the while, the group of six leaders was still away up the road but their advantage was tumbling rapidly.
Froome took a new bike and a musette at the same time, and was joined by Thomas – who also changed bikes – for the chase back. The lack of race radios showed when Cummings was still driving the pace on the front while his two probable team leaders were trying to regain contact.
Spain and Italy amassed at the front allowing Cummings to sit in, and a coming back together saw Yates return to the lead group.
With 74km left to race, Cummings’s huge turn came to an end and he peeled off. At that point the Italians came to the front and upped the pace.
The breakaway group was losing members and before long only Kwiatkowski and Kochetkov were left in the lead. The Russian then tried to go alone but couldn’t shake the Pole.
Damiano Caruso (Italy), Thomas and Van Avermaet went off the front of the main peloton in the first big move of the latter part of the race. Rein Taaramäe (Estonia) bridged over and was soon followed by Sergio Henao (Colombia).
Geschke, who was going backwards from the original break, rode with the group for as long as he could but his brave ride was over. Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan) made his way over with ease and took his place in the Thomas group.
Froome and Yates sat in the next group on the road with most of the riders watching the former, while the latter looked very comfortable. Spain were obliged to chase and were offered little assistance.
Kwiatkowski was the last rider from the original break to be caught when he was passed with 45.4km between him and the finish line. He jumped on the back of the Thomas group and there he stayed for 5km before sitting up.
Richie Porte (Australia) crashed hard on a descent and collided with a metal pole at the side of the road. Initial reports suggested a broken collarbone.
Nibali and his Italian teammate Fabio Aru bridged across to the Thomas group on a descent and were chased down by Yates, Kwiatkowski, Fuglsang and Majka.
Despite how much riding he’d already done, Kwiatkowski was still coming through for a turn to drive the group on until cramp saw him dropped once again.
Alejandro Valverde (Spain) and his Spanish teammates were forced to work on the front of the chase group before Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) put in a massive turn in the hope of getting the leaders back.
Caruso gave his all for his country before sitting up, leaving Italy and Britain with two riders each at the head of the race. Aru went first before Zeits went straight past him and Fuglsang brought the group back to his wheel. Yates was distanced when the attacks started and Aru was soon out the back too.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain), Louis Meintjes (South Africa) and Tanel Kangert (Estonia) bridged to and passed Yates before Froome pushed out from what was left of the massively reduced peloton and latched onto his younger teammate’s wheel.
Julian Alaphilippe (France) chased Froome before leaving him behind, whilst further up the road Henao, Nibali and Majka got away with 17km to go.
It seemed as though the gold medal would be decided between those three until both Nibali and Henao crashed. Majka was unaffected by the crash and went alone with about 11km left to race.
Thomas was the next to go down and he too crashed out of contention on the final descent in a separate incident.Thankfully he was able to finish so that should point to his injuries not being too serious.
Any view of Froome showed him taking his time on the descent as his target remains the time trial in a few days’ time. He did, however, still sprint for the finish line when the time came.
Once the remaining riders were down the descent, the small chasing group did more watching than chasing as no one wanted to work harder than their rivals and all seemed to be settling for silver.
Fuglsang attacked and was followed by Van Avermaet, with Majka ahead by just over 10 seconds. Alaphilippe pushed on but had left it too late and was chasing fourth.
Rio 2016 Olympic men’s road race
1. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium), 6-10-05
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), at same time
3. Rafal Majka (Poland), at 5s
4. Julian Alaphilippe (France), at 22s
5. Joaquim Rodgriguez (Spain), at 22s
6. Fabio Aru (Italy), st
7. Louis Meintjes (South Africa), st
8. Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan), at 25s
9. Tanel Kangert (Estonia), at 1-47
10. Rui Costa (Portugal), 2-29
11. Geraint Thomas (Great Britain), at 2-29
12. Chris Froome (Great Britain), at 2-58
13. Dan Martin (Ireland), at 2-58
15. Adam Yates (Great Britain), at 3-03