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After Nibali and Henao had crashed out of the front group, Van Avermaet and Fuglsang joined Majka inside the final 2km before the Belgian won the sprint for the gold medal in the Olympic road race; Fuglsang took silver, Majka bronze

Photo: Sirotti

GREG VAN AVERMAET

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JAKOB FUGLSANG

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RAFAL MAJKA

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06.08.2016 @ 21:14 Posted by Emil Axelgaard

Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) delivered a surprise by claiming the Olympic goal medal on the mountainous course in Rio di Janeiro after a huge drama that will go down in history. After Vincenzo Nibali and Sergio Henao had crashed out of a front trio, the Belgian and Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) caught lone leader Rafal Majka (Poland) with less than 2km to go and then took an easy sprint win. Fuglsang won the silver medal while Majka had to settle for bronze.

 

When he arrived in Rio for the Olympics, Greg Van Avermaet said that the mountainous course in Brazil was on the limit for him. However, he was adamant that the gold medal was a possibility if he had the perfect race.

 

Van Avermaet knew that he couldn’t follow the best climbers on the 9km Vista Chinesa climb that was tackled three times in the finale and so he openly admitted that his own chance was to anticipate. That’s what he did in today and in the end, the tactics paid off as he took a memorable win after a huge drama.

 

However, Van Avermaet needed a good amount of luck to come out on top. After he had joined a strong group on the decisive circuit, it looked like he had missed out on a medal when Vincenzo Nibali, Rafal Majka and a few others had bridged across. Nibali split the group the final time up the climb and as only Sergio Henao who had been in Van Avermaet’s group since the start, and Majka could follow, it looked like the podium had been found.

 

However, Nibali took huge risks on the descent and both he and Henao crashed dramatically in a tricky turn. That left Majka as the lone leader and suddenly all the odds were on a Polish gold medal as there was no cooperation in the 7-rider chase group.

 

However, things were turned around with 5km to go when Jakob Fuglsang attacked and only an attentive Van Avermaet followed. With Fuglsang content with a medal, the pair worked excellently together to catch Majka inside the final 2km. As the Dane was still keen just to finish in the top 3, the group managed to stay away and of course Van Avermaet easily won the sprint.

 

The action had really started after the penultimate passage of the climb. At this point, Van Avermaet, Henao, Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan), Damiano Caruso (Italy) and Geraint Thomas (Great Britain) led the race with a small 20-second advantage over the peloton that had been whittled down significantly. As soon as they hit the descent, Fabio Aru and Nibali attacked on the descent and together with the Polish duo of Majka and Michal Kwiatkowski who had been in the break all day, and Adam Yates, they made it across to the leaders. Fuglsang also made the junction before Caruso and Kwiatkowski went full gas on the front.

 

Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez (Spain), Rui Costa (Portugal) and Daryl Impey (South Africa) formed a chase quartet but they were soon brought back by the peloton which was led by Fabian Cancellara. The Swiss did all the work to keep the break under control, working for team leader Sebastien Reichenbach.

 

Kwiatkowski dropped out of the front group due to cramps and so it was a battle between Caruso and Cancellara. Surprisingly, Valverde started to work with the Swiss, indicating that the Spaniards were riding for Rodriguez.

 

With 25km to go, the gap was 45 seconds and moments later they hit the climb for the final time. Caruso swung off immediately and left it to Aru to set the pace.

 

As soon as the peloton hit the climb, Tanel Kangert (Estonia) attacked. Alexis Vuillermoz tried to follow bu the Frenchman was unable to follow the Estonian. While he tied to bridge the gap, Zeits attacked and he got a small advantage before Yates was dropped.

 

Fuglsang closed the gap to Zeits and then the Kazakh started to ride on the front. Further back, Rodriguez and Louis Meintjes (South Africa) joined Kangert and they were now close to the leaders. However, the Estonian was soon dropped.

 

France started to chase with Vuillermoz and this was too much for Valverde who fell off the pace. Moments later, Froome made his big attack. Only Romain Bardet could initially follow but also the Frenchman had to surrender.

 

Yates dropped back to Froome before Julian Alaphilippe (France) joined from behind. The young brit sacrificed himself for his leader but they were still far back with 20km to go.

 

Nibali made his big attack but he couldn’t get rid of Henao, Thomas and Majka. Hence, the pace went down and so Van Avermaet and Fuglsang got back. Nibali tried again but he was unable to make a difference.

 

Zeits and Aru both rejoined the front group before Fuglsang made a failed attack and finally Rodriguez and Meintjes also made the junction before they hit the small descent midway up the climb. Further back, Alphilippe dropped Froome and Yates and soon passed Kangert.

 

As soon as the road got steeper again, Nibali attacked again but he was unable to make the difference. However, he could follow Henao when the Colombian made a counterattack. Majka was chasing alone and he soon made it back.

 

Nibali made another attack and this time he got a small gap. However, Henao just had to take a short breather and then brought the trio back together.

 

Fuglsang, Thomas and Van Avermaet were the nearest chasers but were soon joined by Meintjes, Rodriguez, Alaphilippe, Zeits and Aru. However, they were a massive 25 seconds behind two kilometres from the top. Further back, Froome had been joined by Costa but he was quickly dropped by the former world champion,

 

The front trio reached the top with an advantage of around 15 seconds and then Nibali went full gas on the descent. He took huge risks and that turned out to be disastrous. Both the Italian and Henao hit the deck and only Majka managed to pass safely.

 

While Majka pressed on alone, Thomas was the next to go down. Alaphilippe was set back by the crash but he made it back when they hit the flat roads as the chase group failed to cooperate.

 

Majka hit the final 8km with a 20-second advantage over Rodriguez, Van Avermaet, Alaphilippe, Fuglsang, Meintjes, Zeits and Aru and he had even increased it to 25 seconds three kilometres later

 

With 5km to go, it looked like Majka was riding away with the gold but suddenly Fuglsang used a moment of hesitation to attack. Only Van Avermaet followed and those two riders quickly reduced the gap to 10 seconds while Alaphilippe tried to bridge the gap alone.

 

Van Avermaet and Fuglsang cooperated excellently and had reduced the gap to just 8 seconds with 2km to go. A huge turn by Van Avermaet made them close the gap just 500m later.

 

Van Avermaet led the front trip under the flamme rouge and then Fuglsang decided to go full gas to secure a medal. Only in the final 400m, the tactical game started and when Van Avermaet launched the sprint, the outcome was never in doubt. The Belgian as in a class of his own and easily secured the gold medal while Fuglsang took silver. Majka suffered from cramps and had to settle for bronze.

 

With the road race done and dusted, the attention now turns to the time trial which will be held on Wednesday.

 

A mountainous course

The road race at the 2016 Olympics were held on a 237.5km course around Rio di Janeiro. After a flat start along the coast, the riders did four laps of the 24.7km Grumari cicuit that included a cobblestone section and two short, steep climbs. Then they headed along flat coastal roads to the 25.5km Vista Chinesa circuit which they tackled thrice. Every time they went up an 8.9km climb that averaged 6.2% and was particularly steep in the first four kilometres where the gradient was constantly above 10%. After the final passage, 14.8km remained and they consisted of a technical descent and 4.6km of flat roads.

 

The Olympics kicked off with a bang as 144 of the world's best riders gathered for one of the event's major competitions. An ambitious British team led by Chris Froome was lined up in the front row before they headed off in beautiful sunny weather, but there were no immediate desire to ride hard. Despite the fact that there was no neutral zone, the peloton rolled along at leisurely pace during the first kilometers.

 

Dumoulin abandons

Once the peloton had left the beach, the day's first attack came from an Argentine rider, and Korea and Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) were also very active in the initial phase. Dan Craven (Namibia), Vegard Stake Laengen (Norway), Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia), Aleksejs Saramotins (Latvia) and Ramūnas Navardauskas (Lithuania) also tried, but it was a rider from Algeria who got the first serious advantage. While he worked hard to increase the gap, there was a minor crash that involved Onur Balkan (Turkey) but he was fortunately able to continue.

 

The Algerian rider was brought back and instead it was Pantano who attacked on the first small climb. Tony Martin (Germany) tried next but his attempt failed. However, the fierce pace meant that the first riders were dropped. At the same time, Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) stepped off, obviously to protect his injured wrist for the time trial.

 

Six riders get clear

A very aggressive Martin tried to ride away before his teammate Simon Geschke attacked. He was joined by Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) and Pavel Kochetkov (Russia) before Michael Albasini (Switzerland), Pantano and Sven Erik Bystrøm (Norway) bridged the gap. Thus, a sextet had been formed and they worked well together to increase the lead. Petr Vakoc (Czech Republic) tried to join them and was caught in no man’s land while peloton calmed down and let the breakaway ride away. Vakoc gave up quickly and was again brought back.

 

After 20km of racing, the gap had gone out to one minute, and as no one showed any initiative, it was a massive six minutes just 10 km later. After 35km, the chase finally started when Imanol Erviti (Spain) and Alessandro De Marchi (Italy) hit the front, and they made sure that the gap didn’t get much bigger.

 

Chaos on the cobbles

The break hit the first lap of the Grumari circuit with a lead of 7.50, and they had already lost 20 seconds when they hit the first of the climbs. Moments later, the second Turkish rider, Ahmet Orken, also crashed and unlike his teammate, he hurt himself badly. In general, there was much stress on the cobblestones where the speed increased dramatically. The peloton split up and at the same time Richie Porte (Australia) was forced to chase hard due to a mechanical.

 

When the peloton hit the climb, things calmed down while Ian Stannard (Great Britain) took over the pace-setting but nonetheless several riders from the smaller nations were in great difficulties. The big Briton was quickly joined by De Marchi and Erviti and the trio worked together druing the next few kilometers. The gap had dropped to 6.45 due to the big acceleration.

 

Bad luck for Mollema

Stannard, De Marchi and Erviti had reduced the gap to 5.30 when they started the second lap. Again the cobblestones created chaos and a fight for position, and there were several mechanicals. Bauke Mollema (Netherlands) and Greg Van Avermaet (Belgian) had bad luck and the former had to spend an enormous amount of energy to get back to the bunch.

 

Mollema’s troubles would not end, and he had to stop again for a bike change, but luckily he could rejoin the peloton when the race calmed down. There was less stress at the third passage of the cobblestones, and the race settled into a quiet rhythm where Stannard, Erviti and De Marchi kept the gap at around 4.45.

 

The Czechs split the field

With 130km to go, Fabio Aru (Italy) suffered a puncture but he could easily rejoin the peloton as Erviti, De Marchi and Stannard kept riding on the front. However, things heated up just ten kilometres later when they hit the cobbles for the final time. The Czech team made a big acceleration with Jan Barta, Petr Vakoc and Zdenek Stybar and they immediately split the peloton into three groups. At the same time disaster struck for Richie Porte (Australia) as he dropped hi chain for the second time in the race.

 

Chris Froome, Stephen Cummings and Geraint Thomas were well-represented in the 20-rider first group while riders like Dan Martin, Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao found themselves in the third group. Cummings went straight to the front to maintain the pace. However, he couldn’t prevent Vincenzo Nibali from bringing the second group back.

 

A dangerous group

Cummings continued to ride hard on the first climb but then slowed down. That set the scene for new attacks and the Brit was even active himself. He created a 15-rider group that also included the likes of Taaramae, Roche, Gilbert, Van Avermaet, Izagirre, Thomas, Caruso, Cancellara, Clarke, Phinney, Bodnar, Lopez and Oliveira.

 

France and Denmark had missed the move and as the peloton caught the rest of the Froome group, Christopher Juul, Steve Morabito (Switzerland) and Alexis Vuillermoz started to chase. They brought the strong group back before they hit the second climb.

 

Poels is dropped

Cummings again hit the front for the British team and set the pace as they went up the ascent 2.20 behind the leaders. The Brit set a fast pace and surprisingly Tim Wellens (Belgium) and Wout Poels (the Netherlands) were dropped. Moments later, Adam Yates (Great Britain) also fell off the pace. However, they could rejoin the peloton as they finished the descent.

 

The front group left the Grumari circuit and entered the final 100km with an advantage of 1.55. At this point, Chris Froome made a planned bike change and Geraint Thomas easily brought him back.

 

Cummings rides hard

Cummings and Erviti kept the gap at two minutes while the fight for position intensified as they headed to the Vista Chinesa circuit. As soon as they hit the climb for the first time, Kwiatkowski upped the pace and both Bystrøm and Albasini were dropped.

 

Erviti ended his job at the bottom of the climb but Cummings kept riding hard. He made the peloton explode, with Poels being the most notable victim. The Brit also brought Bystrøm back as they hit the final 75km.

 

Kwiatkowski splits the group

While Pantano was dropped from the front group, De Marchi took over from Cummings and brought Albasini back. He created a further selection and had reduced the gap to a minute when Damiano Caruso and Diego Rosa took over. That was too much for both Edvald Boasson Hagen and Philippe Gilbert who were dropped.

 

Kwiatkowski kept riding on the front and when Geschke fell off the pace, he seemed to be the strongest rider. However, Kochetkov launched a surprise attack and the Pole had no response to the strong Russian who soloed towards the top.

 

Van Avermaet on the offensive

The attacking started when Caruso made a move that only Van Avermaet and Thomas followed. The trio sprinted past Pantano and quickly got a solid advantage.

 

Spain had missed the move and while Kwiatkowski rejoined Kochetkov in the front, they put Jonathan Castroviejo on the front. He didn’t respond to Rein Taaramae (Estonia) who quickly bridged the gap to Caruso, Thomas and Van Avermaet.

 

Henao makes the junction

Sergio Henao (Colombia) was the next to attack and he quickly joined the chase group which had passed Geschke. Kleber Ramos (Brazil) tried to follow but he was brought back almost immediately.

 

At the top of the climb, the front duo were 30 seconds ahead of the five chasers while Castroviejo led the 50-rider over the summit with a deficit of one minute. As they finished the technical descent, they had pushed the gaps out to 30 seconds and 1.20 respectively.

 

Catroviejo chases hard

Castroviejo did a great job to reduce the gap to the chase group to just 20 seconds as they hit the final 50km. Moments later, they hit the climb for the second time.

 

Casroviejo set the pace on the lower slopes until Emanuel Buchmann (Germany) attacked. Christopher Juul (Denmark), Daryl Impey (South Africa) and George Bennett (New Zealand) joined him but Simon Clarke shut it down for Australia.

 

Kwiatkowski takes off

As the pace went down, Kristijan Druasek (Croatia) attacked and he got a small advantage before Bennett, Sergei Chernetskii (Russia) and Primoz Roglic (Slovenia) joined him. Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan) also made the junction but they had a hard time getting a big gap as Clarke was chasing hard for Australia.

 

Kwiatkowsi dropped Kochetkov who fell back to the chasers. The Russian replaced Taaramae who exploded completely due to Van Avermaet’s fast pace. Further back, Zeits took off alone and tried to bridge the gap to the strong chase group.

 

Taaramae hits the front

Zeits made the junction just as Kochetkov was dropped and so it was a five-rider group that finally caught Kwiatkowski with 45km to go. Further back, Taaramae had started to chase in the peloton but he could not prevent Sebastien Reichenbach (Switzerland) from bridging the gap to the Durasek group.

 

The chase group was brought back as the peloton rode hard and both Fabian Cancellara and Nicolas Roche were dropped. The junction had barely been made before Clarke tried a move but he never got much of an advantage.

 

Porte crashes

Clarke started to ride hard on the front to work for his teammate Porte and he kept the gap stable at around 30 seconds. He also shut down a dangerous move from Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), Aru and Yates close to the top.

 

Kwiatkowski was dropped just metres from the top, leaving just a quintet to start the descent with a 20-second advantage over the peloton which was led by Aru. The technical section took its toll as Nelson Oliveira (Portugal), Chernetskii and Porte all hit the deck.  The latter hurt his should and so the race lost one of its favourites. Moments later, Nibali and Aru made their move and from there, the drama really started.

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