Wout van Aert says he rode the Tokyo Olympics road race well, tactically speaking, but couldn't overcome the total volume of his opponents' attacks as the pre-race favourite had to settle for a silver medal.
"I tried to force something myself, but especially Tadej Pogačar and myself were targeted. That was a difficult situation. In those circumstances, I think I got the most out of it," Van Aert said after winning the sprint for second against the Tour de France champion, Ecuador's Richard Carapaz having stolen away and taken the gold medal solo.
Van Aert had looked in difficulty when Pogačar forged clear on the Mikuni Pass, the toughest climb in the race, taking Brandon McNulty (USA) and Michael Woods (Canada) with him, but the Belgian stuck to his own pace and had to trust the race would come back together.
“On the Mikuni Pass I chose to ride at my own pace, I knew I shouldn't force it. I [knew I] might not come back, but that's how I thought I had to try."
With team leaders left without team-mates or race radios giving them up to date information on gaps on the road, the racing in the finale was hectic.
After Carapaz and McNulty went clear on the final climb of the day up Kagosaka Pass, Van Aert did the lion's share of the work to try and bring that duo back, the others in the chase group unwilling to give the winner on the Champs-Élysées a week ago a free tow to the line for a sprint finish.
Ultimately, it was too much for Van Aert to conquer, and although it looked like the catch could be possible, Carapaz then dropped McNulty and sped away up the road, the chase behind faltering as the Ecuadorian took only his country's second gold medal in the history of the Games.
“While McNulty was blowing and coming back on his own, he stayed ahead. Then you are the strongest. Of course he is a beautiful champion. But I am also satisfied," Van Aert concluded.
"With our Belgian five, we carried out the tactics as we wanted. Then I'm glad I can give those guys a medal back."
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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.
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