Olympics: Richard Carapaz claims men's road race title
Richard Carapaz brought home the gold medal for Ecuador in the men’s Olympic road race in Tokyo on Saturday in a pulsating finale that saw the climber drop his main rivals on the last two climbs.
Carapaz made his first acceleration with 25km to go in response to a move from Brandon McNulty (USA) before dropping his breakaway companion and soloing to the win with 5.8km to go.
Carapaz held onto his winning lead over the final finishing circuit on the Fuji Speedway to take the biggest one-day win of his career. The 2019 Giro d’Italia winner finished with more than enough time to soak up the applause from the home crowd after six hours of brutal racing in hot and humid conditions.
In the sprint for the silver and bronze medals, Wout van Aert (Belgium) narrowly held off the late charge from Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia).
As expected, much of the race came down to a battle on the all-important Mikuni Pass. Pogacar was the first major player to break free but he was joined by an elite group of contenders before McNulty took off with 25km to go.
The USA leader was joined by Carapaz and the pair quickly established a healthy lead over dived chase group. By the time a group that contained Van Aert, Pogacar, and Adam Yates finally began to mount a serious chase, the gap to the two leaders was almost a minute but a serious turn of pace from the heavily marked Van Aert saw the gap drop to just 15 seconds.
With McNulty starting to fade in the closing stages, Carapaz knew that it was now or never and on a short rise he kicked clear with one decisive acceleration that distanced his American ally.
Back in the chase, and with McNulty swept up, the remaining riders were unable to find a cohesive rhythm, with attack after attack stifling their efforts. Those moments of hesitation were all that Carapaz needed to cement his place on the podium and a place in the history books with a gold medal for him and for Ecuador.How it unfolded
The cycling events at the Tokyo Olympic Games began with the men’s 234km road race on Saturday. The defending champion Greg Van Avermaet was on the front row at the start and the Belgian would play a pivotal role later in the race but the early stages of the action were dominated by a break that included Nic Dlamini (RSA), Michael Kukrle (CZE), Juraj Sagan (SVK), Polychronis Tzortzakis (GRE), Eduard-Michael Grosu (ROU), Aular Sanabria (VEN), Paul Daumont (BUR), and Elchin Asadov (AZE).
The move was allowed to establish a lead of over 19 minutes before squads from Belgium and most notably Slovenia began to usher a chase.
There was a crash with just over 150km of racing remaining that took down several key riders, including Geraint Thomas, Tao Geoghegan Hart, Gregor Muehlberger and Giulio Ciccone, but it was the Welshman who came off worst of all, once again landing on same side that he crashed on during the Tour. He would later abandon the race.
With the chase from the peloton becoming steady over Mount Fuji, the gap to the leaders quickly began to drop, with Van Avermaet himself taking on huge pulls as the leaders saw their advantage cut to just 11 minutes with 100km to go.
Just 20km later and the gap had more than halved as the race took on an undulating 30km before the pivotal climb of the Mikuni Pass.Mikuni Pass
The race into the final major climb had already sparked action, with the remaining three riders from the break – Kukrle, Tzortzakis, and Sanabria – all caught as Italy began to play their hand with a set of stinging attacks from Vincenzo Nibali, Damiano Caruso and Ciccone. Those moves were well marked by the Dutch, Belgians and Slovenians, while an attacked that included Nibali, Remco Evenepoel and Eddie Dunbar was quickly nullified with 49km remaining.
After passing through the Fuji Speedway circuit for the second time. the race hit the Mikuni Pass, with Tiesj Benoot setting a furious pace on the lower slopes. He reduced the leading group to less than 30 riders. with the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Italy’s earlier attacking trio all distanced. Kasper Asgreen, Luke Durbridge, Nicolas Roche and Nairo Quintana all fell by the wayside, too, as Primoz Roglic and Pogacar rode almost side by side up the lower slopes. Mauri Vansevenant took over after Benoot cracked, with less than 15 riders still in contention by the time he eventually peeled off.
It was Pogacar, though, who ignited the race properly with a stinging attack with 37.4km to go. Unlike at the Tour de France, he was unable to create major daylight between himself and his rivals, with Michael Woods and McNulty able to scamper across the gap. The trio established a 20-second lead, with Van Aert forced to take up the chase, with a group containing Alberto Bettiol, Adam Yates, Rigoberto Uran, Bauke Mollema, Jakob Fuglsang and Michal Kwiatkowski glued to his wheel.
At that point, Carapaz had been slightly distanced but when the Pogacar group were caught with 33km to go, the rider from Ecuador was back in contention with George Bennett, McNulty, Max Shachmann, and David Gaudu creating an 11-rider split.
With the climb over, the race turned into game of cat and mouse, with Mollema (29km to go) and Fuglsang (27km to go) both putting in moves. With 25km remaining, McNulty tried his luck and Carapaz was wise to the danger. At the Tour these two were foes but here in Tokyo allegiances were different and, with a gold medal on the line, the pair worked together.
Behind, Van Aert was constantly forced to lead the chase. The Belgian, who had paced himself brilliantly after being dropped on the Mikuni Pass, put in a huge turn of speed on the Kagosaka Pass – the last climb of the race – and he reduced the gap to just 14 seconds but, with several riders on his wheel, the race for gold was effectively down to the two riders out front.
Bettiol’s hopes ended with 14.8km to go due to cramp, while Gaudu, Woods and Uran put in final accelerations before the final sprint for silver.