By Thomas Dodd
- Belgium’s Greg Van Avermaet wins Gold in Olympic Men’s Road Race
- Belgian pips Jakob Fuglsang and Rafal Majka to take title
- GB’s Geraint Thomas crashes when in good shape before final climb, while teammate Chris Froome comes home 12th.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet outlasted the peloton to win the Olympic men’s road race after a gruelling day of riding the roads around Rio.
Van Avermaet, who held the yellow jersey in the Tour de France last month, out-sprinted Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang and Rafal Majka to claim the one of the first gold medal of the games on the first full day of competition in Brazil.
Britons Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome came home just outside the top ten, with Adam Yates of Bury also finishing inside the top 15.
Thomas had been in a chase group of riders a mere few seconds behind a leading group of three as they made their way down to the finish, but crashed heavily on the dangerous descent to ruin any chances he had of a medal.
Froome meanwhile seemed content to play second fiddle to his Welsh Team Sky teammate, staying back with the main field until the end of the race before a relatively reserved solo effort saw him catch Ireland’s Dan Martin in the final kilometres.
The Tour de France winner will now plan for the time trial event later in the week.
Team GB’s other representatives in the race Ian Stannard and Stephen Cummings both failed to complete the 237.5km course after giving their all to set up a win for one of their compatriots.
Two climbing circuits at either end of the race were enough to split the 140-strong field and by the time the summit of the final climb loomed into view there were just three leaders out front.
Pre-race favourite Vincenzo Nibali of Italy was joined by Colombia’s Sergio Henao and Majka as they tried desperately to avoid the gaggle of chasers hunting them down.
But the tight, twisty descent effectively decided the outcome of the breakaway when it forced Nibali into too big a risk, and the 2016 Giro winner was sent crashing to the floor along with Henao.
Earlier, Australian Richie Porte broke his collarbone after also crashing on the downhill section of the final circuit.
Nibali’s demise left Majka out front by half a minute with eight kilometres to go, and for a while it looked as though that would be enough as the followers (including van Avermaet, Fuglsang and Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe – who eventually finished fourth) seemed unable to work together to reduce the gap.
But with the Polish King of the Mountains winner from this year’s Tour de France clearly struggling on the sea front of Copacabana beach the followers suddenly smelled blood.
Van Avermaet and Fulgsang finally bridged the gap with two kilometres to go and on the final push for victory it was the Belgian who had the most left in the tank.
The Gold is Belgium’s first in the Olympic Men’s Road Race since Helsinki in 1952.
Sunday will see the turn of the women’s event, with just under 70 competitors racing over a 137km course.
Nikki Harris and Emma Pooley will head the Great British charge in the event, as well as Lizze Armitstead, whose participation at the games is viewed as contentious owing to a doping controversy.
The Yorkshire rider took silver in the event at London 2012 behind Marianne Vos, but three missed drugs tests in the run up to Rio have placed her well and truly in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
Men’s Olympic Road Race 2016 (237.5km, Rio)
1. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) 6h10minutes05seconds
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) +same time
3. Rafal Majka (Poland) +same time
4. Julian Alaphilippe (France) +17s
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain) +17s
6. Fabio Aru (Italy) +17s
7. Louis Meintjes (South Africa) +17s
8. Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan) +20s
9. Tanel Kangert (Estonia) +1m27s
10. Rui Costa (Portugal) +2m29s
11. Geraint Thomas, +2m29s
12. Chris Froome, +2m58s
15. Adam Yates, +3m03s
DNF. Ian Stannard
DNF. Stephen Cummings
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