Dan Martin has equalled Ireland’s best ever Olympic Road Race result, finishing 13th in the 237.5km race, which included 11 significant climbs and a tricky cobbled section. Nicolas Roche also impressed on the difficult course, finishing in a fine 29th position.
The race was won by Belgium’s in-form Greg Van Avermaet ahead of Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark, with Poland’s Rafal Majka rounding off the podium. Both Martin and Roche raced strongly in a race marked by crashes and mechanical mishaps.
Both Irish riders had started the Olympic race with the podium in their sights, with many tipping Martin for a medal. Speaking after the race Martin was disappointed for himself, but positive about the race outcome saying “It shows how far we have come, for a nation like Ireland to be coming in with two guys who can medal, and then be really disappointed with a 13th place finish out of 150 starters, it shows how far we’ve come; it shows the ambition we have. We rode our best and that’s all you can ask for.”
The riders started off by travelling along the coast to the Grumari circuit, where they did four laps of the 25km circuit before moving back to the Vista Chinesa circuit, which featured an 8.5km climb which they tackled three times. While the climbs were challenging, and the descents were tricky, it was the cobbled section on the Grumari circuit that really tested many riders, causing punctures and chains to slip. Both Irish riders were caught out in this section.
Both Roche and Martin were caught out on the cobbles, and Roche explained why so many riders were affected: “The cobbled section was disastrous; it was like a war zone with chains dropping and bottles flying all over the place. A fair few riders had the same problems and one of the causes is that on a course so hard we use a 32 which means we use a longer derailleur and chain and there’s a lot more give when we got to the cobbles. They came after a descent so we were in the biggest gear. It wasn’t too important because the way the lap was we could move up with the big headwind at the other side.”
While Roche and Martin had good legs going into the race, the results didn’t reflect it. An early break of strong riders managed to hold a lead over the main group for much of the race and while Martin and Roche spent much of the race at the front of the peloton, they were disappointed to miss out on the podium. Martin said “It was one of the hardest bike races I have done, it was hot, on a tricky course and no let off all day.”
Roche echoed his cousin saying “Both myself and Dan came in with high ambitions. I think the course was a bit of a surprise. The course and racing were harder than what a lot of people expected. We raced pretty well, but a mechanical happened at a bad place, and on a circuit that’s hard it’s non-forgiving. That’s part of the game, obviously I was hoping for a better result. My chain wrapped on my pedal the first time up the hard climb, and I lost time (50 seconds). My legs were strong but it took a lot of energy to get back to the front. It’s great to say my legs were strong but the thing with the Olympics is it is about results. Thing is today I came to give a bit more; I thought I was maybe going to be able to so I’m disappointed after the finish. These things happen.”
While 13th equals Ireland’s best previous result, when Ciaran Power competed in Athens in 2004, Team Manager Kurt Bogaerts recognised the good showing for Ireland but was disappointed for the Irish riders, as he believed they could medal: “I’m so disappointed, the guys had the level for the top, but that’s bike racing. You see the lads away (Nibali and Henao) at the end, two of them were guaranteed a podium but they crashed out. That’s bike racing. We got two top thirty results. The six riders that rode away early on, they were six that can ride away in the final. It was one of the hardest races I’ve seen, like a queen stage in the Tour! So with two Ireland guys in the top thirty that’s amazing. It means the level of Irish cycling is quite high. That’s probably the best result for Ireland, but when you know what happens it’s really disappointing. That’s cycling.”
Although disappointed to not be on the podium, Martin was grateful for the opportunity to compete at the Olympics: “Big thanks to Cycling Ireland and the Olympic Council of Ireland for letting us believe in our dream. Up until 25km to go we nearly had that dream. Thanks for letting us believe in that.”
Next up for Ireland’s Olympic cycling team is Shannon McCurley who competes in the Keirin Track Cycling Event next Saturday, 13th August.