Olympics’16: Greg Van Avermaet Grabs Gold!
Bike races do not come much better that this one!
Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) won from Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) and Rafa Majka (Poland) but those few words do not do justice to a last lap where Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) the favourite fell whilst in the lead, Majka looked to be a fine solo winner – but Van Avermaet wanted it more, catching the Polish climber in the closing minutes of this fearful but beautiful bike race in stunning Rio.
Brian Cookson flags them off; we have four laps of the Grumari circuit then three laps of the Vista Chinesa circuit; both have two climbs per lap with the Chinesa circuit climbs by no means easy, race distance stretches out past the psychological 200 K barrier at 237.5 kilometres.
Good news for the North Europeans.
Despite all that climbing, it’s a flat run in so it’ll be a fast finisher who can climb who’ll win – the definition of Valverde perhaps. The pace is brisk and one of the Turks has the honour of being first on the deck – he won’t be the last. And Dumoulin is out, already – it’s all about Wednesday’s time test for him.
Meanwhile, Geschke rides hard on the front for Germany – why? Well, he has the gap and Kwiatkowski (Polska) is there too as the first real break of the day does go; also we have Bystrom (Norge), Albasini (Suisse), Russian Champion Kochetkov and Tour stage winner Pantano (Columbia) – that’s one strong move.
They have a minute, then two, then five very quickly as the peloton sits up and watches them go with 214 K to go.
That beach and ocean look amazing. The gap will get even bigger as the peloton takes a mass comfort break. At 200 K to go the Spanish and Italian teams pick it up in the bunch, no panic but those names are too big to let take 15 minutes.
The break is now on the first circuit with almost eight minutes of a lead – and there are the cobbles. Just like Flanders but with sun, sand and surf – and no spectators. The break is in the hills as the bunch hit the cobbles and another Turk is down – and out.
Stannard rides point for GB – and the peloton has strung way out. There’s a strong wind blowing hard across the course now and we have riders struggling at the back already.
Stannard is still up front with team mates Cummings, Froome and Thomas all to the fore – not Yates though, he’s stone last.
The Belgians meanwhile don their cloaks of invisibility with the gap to the break coming down below six minutes as they come into the second lap of this circuit. The break hits the the cobbles for the second time; then the bunch with at least six stopped by the roadside with derailed chains – and a Mexican bites the dust.
Up ahead Bystrom changes bikes as Van Avermaet (Belgium) punctures out of the peloton – there’s the change, he’s still in the cars so he’ll get back.
Mollema (Netherlands) also has mechanical grief, he changes bikes – as San Sebastian winner he’s one of the favourites and he too is still in the cars on one of the climbs.
The Dutchman fights his way back through the cars as Stannard continues to burn watts at the front like there’s no tomorrow.
And now we have 100 miles to go as Gilbert (Belgium) gets attention from the mechanic with the gap to the break still over five minutes.
Mollema goes back to his ‘A’ bike and it all looks a little calmer now as Stannard gets spells from the Italians and Spanish as the six man break goes into lap three of four of this initial circuit. The break is on the cobbles for the third pass with bottles bouncing out all over the place.
Into fourth lap Aru (Italia) punctures and changes a front wheel. He’s in the aero tuck among the cars and should get back without too much drama.
The gap to the break is 4:30 now with Spain and Italy still tapping away at 125 K to go.
The parcours really is spectacular with the beach, the ocean, the jungle – and the cobbles…
Pass four for the break on the said sets – they get through without incident; Porte drops his chain for the second time as the Czechs blast it in the cross wind. The Czechs have Stybar and Konig remember – strong boys.
And it has split; GB is on the right side of the split with the Czechs – and Steve Cummings is on point.
Next up is the long flat drag back along the coast to the second much tougher circuit.
Cummings, Thomas, Gilbert, Costa (Portugal), Phinney (USA) are in the split clear of the peloton but there’s no real cohesion and they’re well within the sights of the main peloton – and that’s it, they’ve merged.
The six desperados are still clear but the lead has tumbled to under three minutes.
Cummings is on point for GB, lucky him… Stannard has gone, Wellens (Belgium) has popped and Wout Poels is making heavy weather of getting back on the tail of a much thinned down peloton – heat, hills, distance all doing their worst.
The gap to the Slippy Six is now inside two minutes as they pick up the glorious beaches and foaming ocean en route to the second circuit and its horrible hills – pan flat for around 25 k now. Enjoy it while you can guys – it gets nasty soon.
Froome changes bikes – it looked planned – Thomas is there for him and the chase begins – meanwhile Cummings charges on up front. There are no race radios today so Cummings doesn’t realise his Capo is off the back.
The break are rocking and rolling a bit now – Kwiatkowski excepted – as they savour the smooth, flat tarmac of the coast road.
Spain have committed with the whole team on the front, albeit not riding too hard, just maintaining the gap at around 2:15 – but Mr. Cummings is still there whilst behind in the peloton there’s a bit of chatting and scheming getting done.
It’s status quo all along the coast and then – the climbs. Bystrom pops immediately as it ramps up making five left with Cummings still on point – correction, make that four – Albasini has gone too.
In the peloton, Poels pops as Cummings turns the peloton into a long line of hurting men. The Italians begin to show now at the head of the group – Stybar pops.
Kwiatkowski is silky smooth up front, he and his three amigos have one minute on the peloton as Cummings drops off like a booster rocket whose fuel has gone.
Pantano pops, three up front now.
Phinney pops as Caruso and De Marchi grind it out – big hard men, both.
The sand is draining from Geschke’s hour glass and now we have two up front – and surprisingly it’s Kwiatkowski who’s found wanting as Kochetkov pedals onward, upwards.
Back at the ranch Gilbert pops, Boasson Hagen pops – and this is only ascent one.
Three go clear – Caruso (Italy), Van Avermaet (Belgium) and Thomas (GB) with 70 K to go and Taaramae (Estonia) bridges as does Henao (Columbia). Kwiatkowski has got back to the Russian and the two are still clear on the descent between the two climbs – they have 45 seconds.
They’re on the second climb now; it’s tough initially as Henao sets the pace – Spain try to keep the lid on back in the peloton. The two breakaway survivors push onwards with very few spectators at all in the gloom of the jungle canopy.
The peloton is much diminished, maybe 35/40 riders left – Nibali, Aru, Yates, Froome all there. The climb tops out and the descent is Technical, that’s with a capital ‘T’.
On the flat off the descent we can establish the situation: the two K’s remain up front, then 25 seconds back to the five in the Thomas group with the Spanish powered peloton a further 40 seconds behind them.
Cancellara is in there, as are Froome and Yates, Bookwalter (USA) too; and still it’s Spain’s Castroviejo who rides tempo in the peloton – but he can’t keep that up indefinitely albeit, he’s still blasting along the coast road and has the gap down to 25 seconds to the five.
Lap two, and the road rears again with Rodriguez showing face in the peloton – Thomas drives his group, GVA hangs on the back.
Castroviejo has gone as Gilbert gets dropped again – having fought back on the descent – as the surprising Durasek (Croatia) goes clear of the peloton. Zeits (Kazakhstan) is now on his way across to the five as they hit the little descent towards the top of the first half of the climb.
Kwiatkowski still leads ‘en seule’ but the five are nearly upon him – the junction comes, six now in the lead. Five chase them including Durasek and Bennett (New Zealand) as they ride into the second part of the hill.
Zeits is across and driving – Vino the Second ? The Bennett group is absorbed – six up front now: Kwiatkowski, Zeits, Caruso, Thomas, Henao and GVA – Taaramae is AWOL – versus the peloton.
Kruijswik (The Netherlands) pops, with none of the Bigs showing face in the peloton – they’re all saving it for the last lap.
Kwiatkowski has sat up.
We have 40 K to go – THIS is the race now, the last hour.
Porte (Australia) is down and out – sore one.
We’re back on the flat now and things have changed a lot on that descent, the group is now: Nibali, Aru, Caruso (Italy), Fuglsang (Denmark), Kwiatkowski, Majka (Poland), Thomas, Yates (GB), Zeits (Kazakhstan), GVA (Belgium), Henao (Columbia) – NO Spanish.
Spain are panicking, waving other riders through – Cancellara is there for them but it looks like the Spaniards blown it. Things are so bad that Valverde does a turn.
The French are there – can Bardet bridge ? Or Alaphilippe ?
Froome is fuelling up – can he get across on the climb ?
In the break Caruso is killing himself for Aru and Nibali, they have 38 seconds. Yates looks like he’s thinking about going it alone – we’ll know on the climb.
The climb, Caruso pops, Aru now for Nibali – beautiful team work. Kangert (Estonia) tries to bridge but it’ll be tough on his own. Aru attacks, Zeits covers, Yates pops.
Froome is trying to get across but it’s a tall order.
It looks like Aru is cooked, Nibali goes, Majka counters, Henao is there too – and Thomas. GVA digs deep but Nibali goes again.
Froome has caught Yates and the Tour white jersey finds something for Froome but it’s a big gap.
It’s gelling again up front; Fuglsang, Nibali, Thomas, GVA, Thomas, Aru Zeits, Henao, Majka – and Rodriguez and Meintjes get up.
Henao attacks, Nibali covers and they’re clear – and Majka bridges. Nibali, just clear, can he do it on the descent ?
Alaphilippe has bridged – but the birds have flown.
Henao drives and thinks of the view from the podium, Nibali thinks of his attack on the descent, Majka is thinking of that bonus from Oleg.
The motorbikes can’t keep pace – and JEEZ ! Nibali and Henao are DOWN !
It is one nasty descent.
Majka is alone in the lead, his head rolls, the gear is huge and he knows it’s his shot at Legend.
And Thomas is down – double JEEZ !
Behind we have Alapahilippe, GVA, Fuglsang, Rodriguez, Aru, Zeits, Meintjes but are they just racing for the medals now – Alaphilippe takes it up, can they, will they work together ?
Fuglsang attacks, GVA counters with the gap just 14 seconds – Majka is dieing.
GVA and Fuglsang are closing, closing but Majka digs deep, 10 seconds, nine and inside three kilometres.
Majka is flat out, he can give no more, two K now – they’re on him and he sits up, maybe he can find something for that sprint ?
Inside 300 metres to go, GVA stamps hard, Majka sits up, it’s a no contest as Fuglsang tries – but no way would he beat the Belgian.
GVA, Fuglsang, Majka – what a race, what a winner !
Results: 2016 Men’s Olympics Road Race
1. Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) in 6:10:05
2. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark)
3. Rafal Majka (Poland) at 0:05
4. Julian Alaphilippe (France) at 0:22
5. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spain)
6. Fabio Aru (Italy)
7. Louis Meintjes (South Africa)
8. Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan) at 0:25
9. Tanel Kangert (Estonia) at 1:47
10. Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Portugal) at 2:29
11. Geraint Thomas (Great Britain)
12. Christopher Froome (Great Britain) at 2:58
13. Daniel Martin (Ireland)
14. Emanuel Buchmann (Germany)
15. Adam Yates (Great Britain) at 3:03
16. Brent Bookwalter (United States Of America) at 3:31
17. Bauke Mollema (Netherlands)
18. Kristijan Durasek (Croatia)
19. Sébastien Reichenbach (Switzerland)
20. Frank Schleck (Luxembourg)
21. Jhoan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Colombia) at 3:34
22. Serge Pauwels (Belgium) at 6:12
23. Alexis Vuillermoz (France)
24. Romain Bardet (France)
25. Simon Clarke (Australia).