Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium succeeded in chasing down Rafal Majka of Poland at the finish of today’s men’s road race to win the gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
The finish was marred by crashes, where Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali and Colombia’s Sergio Henao both fell on the last nasty descent from the top of Vista Chinesa with under 15 kilometers to go.
Majak, Nibali and Henao appeared to be on their way to podium finishes, in some order, after breaking free from an elite group of riders from the top of the final climb. The descent’s steep, tight bends had wreaked havoc on the field throughout the stage, however.
Majka luckily stayed upright as Nibali and Henao hit the pavement, but he didn’t have the legs to hold off Van Avermaet and Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang on the long straightaway into the finish line at Fort Copacabana. Van Avermaet, one of the best sprinters in the road race field, seemed to get stronger as Majka’s legs clearly wavered.
Tony Martin was the first rider of the day to attempt to go clear, but the German rider’s efforts proved to be futile.
From there, a six-rider breakaway group containing Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland), Simon Geschke (Germany), Jarlison Pantano (Colombia), Michael Albasini (Switzerland), Sven Erik Bystrom (Norway) and Pavel Kochetkov (Russia), managed to get away, subsequently opening up an eight minute advantage over the peloton.
Then the chaos started on the cobbles in the Grumari circuit. Dutch rider Bauke Mollema was the first big casualty, having to replace a wheel on his bike and then, just a few meters later, opting to replace his bike wholesale. He was able to get back in the peloton, but not without wasting a lot of energy to deal with his bike problems.
Mechanical problems were a theme of the race. Among the biggest names, Australia’s Richie Porte jumped his chain twice, and Tour de France winner Chris Froome for Great Britain took an egregious pull behind a pace car to get back to the peloton at one point.
The breakaway wilted in the final circuit up the tough climbs to Vista Chinesa. Two riders from the original break remained with under 60 kilometers to the finish — Pavel Kochetkov of Russia and Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland — but with a quickly dwindling lead. The peloton, under Spain’s direction, had been reduced to a swift 40 riders out of an initial start list of 144.
The break was finally caught with 45 kilometers to go by a strong chase group containing Froome and Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet. The chaos only ramped up during the final circuit. The technical descent from Vista Chinesa claimed several casualties, including Porte (finally, after a snake-bitten day to continue a snake-bitten 2016).
Nibali and Fabio Aru, Great Britain’s Adam Yates and Poland’s Majka bridged to the front group to take a 50-second lead over the peloton with under 30 kilometers remaining. The move left Spanish favorites Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez scrambling to get the peloton motivated. Froome slipped off the back of the lead group and never fully recovered.
Brent Bookwalter was the highest-placed American finisher, coming in 16th after a valiant ride off the back of the lead riders, coming in three minutes, 31 seconds off Van Avermaet’s time.
Top 10 Finishers
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
15. Adam Yates (Great Britain), at 3-03
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