Olympic Race Report: At the end of a hot and humid day in Japan, Richard Carapaz gave Ecuador its first gold medal in the men’s Olympic road race on Saturday. Carapaz attacked with 25km to go after a move by Bradon McNulty (USA), he then went solo with 5.8km to go. Wout van Aert (Belgium) narrowly beat Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) for the silver medal.
Richard Carapaz making Ecuador history
Richard Carapaz is the new Olympic men’s road race champion. The climber from Ecuador took the gold medal in Tokyo, after a race of 234 kilometres, he crossed the line first on the Fuji Speedway circuit. He escaped what was left of an elite group after the steep Mikuni Pass. The sprint for silver was won by Wout van Aert, ahead of Tadej Pogačar. Bauke Mollema just missed out on a medal in fourth place.
The UCI describe the course: “The local Organising Committee and the UCI have chosen spectacular courses that will suit the Olympic format perfectly. It will be difficult to control the race, and this will allow for lots of attacking and aggressive riding in the first stages of the races. The distances and elevation gain will require the riders to make perfect tactical decisions if they wish to win Olympic medals.”
The Belgian team at the start
From the start a large leading group with lesser known riders was formed. Elchin Asadov (Azerbaijan), Orluis Aular (Venezuela), Nic Dlamini (South Africa), Eduard-Michael Grosu (Romania), Michael Kukrle (Czech Republic), Juraj Sagan (Slovakia), Polychronis Tzortzakis (Greece) and Paul Daumont (Burkina faso). They had a maximum lead of more than 20 minutes on the peloton.
Todaj Pogačar – Recovered from the Tour?
And they’re off!
Belgium and Slovenia set the pace in the peloton with Greg Van Avermaet and Jan Tratnik. The leading group thinned out on the first two climbs of the day; the Doushi Road and the Kagosaka Pass. Aular, Dlamini, Kukrle, Sagan and Tzortzakis were still out front on the Fuji Sanroku (14.5km at 6%). The lead of the remaining five on that climb was under 10 minutes.
Hot and humid conditions for the men’s race
In the peloton on Fuji Sanroku, the Italians put in an attack, this put Alejandro Valverde in trouble and he was dropped 90 kilometres before the finish. The rest of the peloton hit the descent and headed for the base of Mikuni Pass. As the pace slowed a bit, Valverde was able to get back when the course turned onto the Fuji Speedway circuit for the first time. Just after that first pass at the finish line, the race opened up.
Wout van Aert – A top favourite
The route around the circuit was quite hilly and Italy made the race harder. Damiano Caruso and Wilco Kelderman showed themselves briefly, after which it was top favourite Remco Evenepoel who attacked at 52 kilometres out. He took Eddie Dunbar and Vincenzo Nibali with him, but the peloton didn’t relax and pulled the Evenepoel group back within 5 kilometres.
The ‘Break of the Day’
The last remaining escapees, Kukrle and Aular, were also caught. A compact peloton started the steep Mikuni Pass (6.7km at 10.1%). Ties Benoot took the initiative and thinned out the peloton considerably. For Kelderman, Dumoulin, Evenepoel, Hart, Foss, Quintana, Valverde (again) and Nibali, it was the end of the race.
After the lake more climbs
The pace of Mauri Vansevenant, who had relieved Benoot, ensured that only about twenty remained in the lead. The first serious attack came from Tadej Pogačar, 4 kilometres before the top of the Mikuni Pass. The first reaction came from Brandon McNulty and Michael Woods. About 15 seconds behind, an elite group formed in which Wout van Aert was the engine. Bauke Mollema was also still there, Primoz Roglič was not.
The finish is over there
Van Aert was climbing very strongly and managed to keep with the chase group on the steep sections. The Belgian was accompanied by Alberto Bettiol, Adam Yates, Rigoberto Urán, Michal Kwiatkowski, Richard Carapaz, Mollema, Jakob Fuglsang, Maximilian Schachmann and David Gaudu. From that group, Kwiatkowski, Carapaz, Bettiol and Urán managed to make the jump to the Pogačar group, but they all eased off before the top. The difference to the Van Aert group was small.
Pogačar was strong in the favourites group
Just before the top of the Mikuni Pass, Van Aert, Mollema, Gaudu and Fuglsang joined the leading group. The eleven favourites were joined by Schachmann and Yates on the short descent, after which the race took a new turn. All the climbers wanted to get rid of Van Aert, which started the battle for the podium. McNulty and Carapaz were the first to put in a serious attack. They managed to take 25 seconds from the rest, behind that the cooperation was not great.
Wout van Aert – Many people’s favourite
On the fast descent towards the last lap of the circuit, McNulty and Carapaz were able to extend their lead. The chasing group seemed to have resigned itself to the battle for bronze 15 kilometres from the finish. Van Aert made a big effort, so that the difference was reduced to under 20 seconds. The Belgian was still the big engine, because the rest kept to short turns on the front.
Carapaz dropped McNulty for the solo win
Seven kilometres before the finish, the difference between the American/Ecuadorian duo and the Van Aert group was 14 seconds. That suddenly became 20 again because Carapaz rode McNulty of his wheel on a ramp towards the circuit. Behind, the final ignited, with attacks from Gaudu, Urán, Woods and Mollema. Turning onto the Fuji Speedway track, Carapaz had a 30 second lead.
There was no catching Carapaz
That realisation had also filtered through to the chasing group, where they played poker for the silver and bronze medals. A strong Carapaz extended his lead even further in the last kilometres and had plenty of time to celebrate his gold medal. It is only the second Olympic gold medal ever for his country.
Solo win by over a minute for Richard Carapaz
The sprint for second place turned out to be an exciting duel between Van Aert and Pogačar. Thanks to a good jump, the Belgian was just faster than the Slovenian Tour winner, giving him the silver medal. Pogačar took the bronze. Fourth place went to a strong Mollema.
A very close sprint for silver and bronze between Van Aert and Pogačar
Gold medalist, Richard Carapaz (Ecuador): “This is an incredible moment. I took advantage of the best moment there and I had a good companion on the downhill section. I already felt that I had good legs and that is why in the final I went on alone. This is unbelievable. All these feelings don’t even fit in my body, it’s really great. I’ve worked hard to be here and I’m enjoying it. This is something very big for me.”
Who got it?
Silver medalist, Wout van Aert (Belgium): “I had the legs to win, but both myself and Pogačar were targeted. I therefore think that, as things went now, I made the most of it. On the Mikuni Pass I chose to ride at my own pace, I knew I shouldn’t force it. I might not come back, but that’s how I thought I had to try. I tried to force something myself. While McNulty was blown back on his own, he (Carapaz) stayed ahead. Then you are the strongest. Of course he is a beautiful champion. But I am also satisfied. With our Belgian five, we carried out the tactics as we wanted. Then I’m happy to be able to give those guys a medal back.”
2020(1) Olympic road race podium
Olympic Games – Men’s Road Race Result:
1. Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) in 6:05:26
2. Wout van Aert (Belgium) at 01:07
3. Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia)
4. Bauke Mollema (Netherlands)
5. Michael Woods (Canada)
6. Brandon McNulty (USA)
7. David Gaudu (France)
8. Rigoberto Uran (Colombia)
9. Adam Yates (Great Britain)
10. Max Schachmann (Germany)
11. Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) at 1:35
12. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) at 2:43
13. Joao Almeida (Portugal) at 3:38
14. Alberto Bettiol (Italy)
15. Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands)
16. Daniel Martin (Ireland)
17. Simon Yates (Great Britain)
18. Patrick Konrad (Austria)
19. Rafal Majka (Poland) at 3:40
20. Gianni Moscon (Italy) at 3:42
21. Alexey Lutsenko (Kazakhstan) at 6:20
22. Toms Skujins (Latvia)
23. Gorka Izagirre (Spain)
24. Damiano Caruso (Italy)
25. Marc Hirschi (Switzerland).
*85 riders finished.