Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet has taken his biggest ever victory today by winning the Olympic Road Race in Rio. Van Avermaet proved fastest of a lead group of three who contested the finish in Copacabana. In doing so, he became just the second ever Belgian to win gold in the Olympic Road Race, joining André Noyelle who took gold in Helsinki in 1952.
It was an action-packed race, and if ever there was an advert for five-man teams in races, this was it. It was never a foregone conclusion as to who would win with the lead changing hands numerous times, but Van Avermaet was the deserved winner on an incredibly tough course.
The riders faced a course of 237.5 kilometres which started and finished at Fort Copacabana and it was said to have been the toughest in Olympic history.
The hilly course consisted of two different circuit sections with the riders taking on the ‘Grumari Circuit’ four times during the race, which contains the 1.2km, 7% average gradient Grumari climb and the 2.1km climb of Grota Funda which averages 4.5%. To add to the difficulty, the riders also faced a sector of cobbles on the opening lap.
The riders then faced the second circuit section called the ‘Canoas/Vista Circuit’. On this section, the riders tackled the Vista Chinesa climb three times which is 8.5 kilometres long at 5.7% average. After they descend for the final time, the riders then had a 20-kilometre run-in to the finish.
After a number of attempts to go clear, the break of the day got clear after half an hour of racing. Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland), Simon Geschke (Germany), Sven Erik Bystrom (Norway), Michael Albasini (Switzerland), Pavel Kochetkov (Russia) and Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia) were the six to go clear.
They were allowed a maximum lead of five minutes as riders from Spain, Great Britain and Netherland worked at the front of the bunch.
Numerous riders faced problems on the cobbled sector as they dropped chains amongst other issues. Amongst those affected were Lars Petter Nordhaug (Norway), Richie Porte (Australia) and Nicolas Roche (Ireland).
After completing the initial four laps of the circuit, the riders then travelled through the city to take on the second circuit.
A number of riders expected to do well could be seen to be struggling with Philippe Gilbert (Belgium) and Wout Poels (Netherlands) amongst those to go out the back.
Serious damage was done on the second circuit from the start and the peloton really started to reduce. First time up the Vista Chinesa climb, and the lead group started to splinter.
Damiano Caruso (Italy), Geraint Thomas (Great Britain) and Greg van Avermaet (Belgium) then made their move with Rein Taaramae (Estonia) and Sergio Henao (Colombia) then bridging across.
Back in the bunch, Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) and Roche were distanced on the second ascent of Vista Chinesa. On the descent, Porte was in more trouble as he crashed and appeared to be in some discomfort. A number of riders then attacked on the descent to make it across to the leaders with Fabio Aru and his Italian team-mate Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang amongst those to make the junction.
The Spanish missed out and race favourite Alejandro tried but failed to make it across. The leaders then faced the final ascent of Vista Chinesa and Fabio Aru was first to attack but was brought back.
Chris Froome then made his move from the third group on the road and was helped in his bid to get across to the leaders by his team mate Adam Yates who had been dropped from the front group.
Vincenzo Nibali put in some big digs up front but was unable to go clear alone as Fuglsang, van Avermaet and Thomas were able to hang on. As the leaders stalled, Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez and Louis Meintjes (South Africa) were able to get across.
Henao and Nibali made another bid to go clear and they got a gap. Rafal Majka (Poland) was next to jump away towards the top of the climb making it three in the lead. Behind, Julian Alaphilippe (France) put in a great ride as he went past Froome to make it across to the chasers.
As the leaders started the final descent, their lead was fifteen seconds and it was to starting to look like these were going to be the medallists. However, disaster struck as with just 12 kilometres remaining, Nibali and Henao crashed on the descent and Majka did well to avoid the fallen riders.
They weren’t the only fallers as Thomas also crashed in the chase group. Majka pushed on alone and with just six kilometres remaining, his lead was 23 seconds and he was looking good for a gold medal as the chasers weren’t working well together.
However, with just four kilometres remaining, Fuglsang attacked and was joined by Van Avermaet. They ate into Majka’s lead and reduced the gap to 8 seconds with two kilometres left. With just over a kilometre left, he was caught.
Fuglsang led out and Van Avermaet was easily able to outsprint the Dane to take the gold medal with Majka a distant third.