RIO DE JANEIRO — Belgium’s Greg van Avermaet snatched gold in a thrilling and incident-packed men’s Olympic road race, out-sprinting Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang alongside the Copacabana beach after a spectacular day of racing along Rio’s coastline on Saturday.
One of the best Olympic road races ever looked as if it would be won by Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali as he accelerated down the final descent of the Vista Chinesa.
But Nibali and Sergio Henao careered out of control at speed leaving Poland’s Rafal Majka out on his own as the race returned to the ocean front.
Straining every last sinew, Majka looked as though he would become Poland’s first cycling gold medallist, but van Avermaet and Fuglsang had other ideas.
They reeled him in with little more than a kilometre of the 237.5km race remaining and left him trailing.
Van Avermaet then applied the perfect finish, accelerating to an epic victory. Majka hung on for the bronze.
“It was a crazy race. A good race to watch,” said Fuglsang after the finish, adding that he was satisfied with silver.
“He (van Avermaet) was willing to work (in catching Majka) because he knows he’s stronger than me in the sprint. I was just hoping his chain would fall off or something,” he said.
A race full of sub-plots, crashes and mechanical problems proved disappointing for Tour de France champion Chris Froome, who could not join the leaders on the final climb and never featured in the medal hunt. He finished 12th.
His British team mate Geraint Thomas also suffered disappointment when he crashed heavily late on.
Van Avermaet’s victory came despite suffering a puncture in the early stages of the race which traversed Rio’s verdant coastline and featured 5,000m of climbing.
Another Pole, Michal Kwiatkowski, spent around 180km in a leading group that broke away after 15km and at one stage enjoyed an eight-minute advantage over the peloton.
Kwiatkowski was still in contention toward the end but six hours of racing under a hot sun took its toll and he fell back with cramp. Another casualty of the course was Australia’s Richie Porte, one of many to crash.