Greg van Avermaet wins first cycling gold medal of Rio 2016 in thrilling men’s road race

Geraint Thomas crashes on final descent as Belgian claims Olympic gold medal

Greg van Avermaet won gold for Belgium in the men’s road race as the cycling got underway at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, but Great Britain’s Geraint Thomas saw his hopes of a medal fall apart with a crash on the final descent.

Van Avermaet sprinted to victory ahead of Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang and Poland’s Rafal Majka – the last three men standing, almost literally, from a front group which had formed on the Vista Chinesa circuit.

Vincenzo Nibali had led the way onto the final descent, but both he and Colombia’s Sergio Henao crashed, before Thomas too succumbed on the fast, technical descent.

It left Majka alone up the road, but Van Avermaet bridged across with Fuglsang on the Copacabana seafront and sprinted to victory to claim gold.

Greg Van Avermaet outsprinted Jacob Fuglsang to win Olympic gold after an action-packed men’s race (Pic: Sirotti)

The Grumari circuit proved every bit as exciting as expected with the bone-jarring cobbles wreaking havoc on the peloton.

Six riders had earlier formed the race’s first break and there was plenty of horsepower up the road with Tour de France stage winner Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia) and Poland’s former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski among them.

Michael Albasini (Switzerland), Simon Geschke (Germany), Sven Erik Bystrom (Norway) and Pavel Kochetkov (Russia) completed the move, with the peloton happy to let them go.

German track sprinter Maximilian Levy and Dutch time trial hopeful Tom Dumoulin were among the early riders to quit the race, but they weren’t to be the last as the cobbles punished several riders.

Turkish rider Ahmet Orken suffered a bad crash on the first lap, while Australia’s Richie Porte, Dutch rider Bauke Mollema and Belgian Greg van Avermaet were among the big names to drop chains or puncture.

Being in the break gave a better choice of road position, but was still not sufficient protection – Bystrom requiring a bike change on more than one occasion.

Bidons falling loose on the 2km stretch also caused problems, with several spilling out again on the final passage of the cobbles.

If the action on the Grumari circuit had been exciting, however, it was nothing compared to what was to unfold on the Vista Chinesa circuit.

The Brits ensured they were active, not least Ian Stannard and Steve Cummings who rode hard on the front of the bunch.

The breakaway was down to just two – Kwiatkowski and Kochetkov – as a chase group set off in pursuit on the hillier of the two circuits.

Thomas was involved in the chase, as was Rein Taaramae (Estonia), Van Avermaet, Sergio Henao (Colombia) and Damiano Caruso (Italy).

Spain set a steady tempo on the front of the bunch, meanwhile, keeping the gap to the leaders at a steady minute as plenty of riders started to spill out the back as the Vista Chinesa climb took hold.

Kwiatkowski attacked off the front, but was soon joined by the chasers who were also joined by Kazakhstan’s Andrey Zeits.

The peloton closed in on the thigh-numbingly steep ascent, but the descent proved just as challenging – Porte crashing, as did Portugal’s Nelson Oliveira.

The podium: Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium, gold), Jacob Fuglsang (Denmark, silver), Rafal Majka (Poland, bronze) (Pic: Sirotti)

The descent gave Italian duo Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali the chance to bridge across to the leaders, with Majka and Britain’s Adam Yates for company.

Spain missed the move, however, and desperately tried to shut the attack down but lacked too many allies in the peloton.

The attacks continued, with Froome trying to bridge across to the leaders with Warren Barguil (France) and Bauke Mollema (Netherlands) trying, but not succeeding, to follow.

Yates tried to help Froome across, having been dropped from the front group as Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez and South Africa’s Louis Meintjes also tried to bridge across just up the road.

Nibali and Henao attacked the front group on the final Vista Chinesa climb, however, blowing the front group apart.

Majka bridged across but Nibali looked too strong as he rode away again – a game of cat and mouse ensuing between the Italian and his two chasers.

Thomas was in the chase group behind, as the three leaders looked well set for a medal, but that all fell apart on the final, technical descent.

Van Avermaet beams with joy on the podium (Pic: Sirotti)

Nibali pushed hard, knowing he held the advantage when it came to descending skills, but it proved to be too hard – both he and Henao crashing.

It left Majka as the lone leader, but the drama wasn’t finished as Thomas went down heavily in the chasing group and ended up in a concrete ditch.

Van Avermaet and Fuglsang chased hard in pursuit of Majka who, mouth open and head lolling desperately tried to hold his advantage on the flat run-in along the seafront.

It was to prove in vain, however, as the two chasers caught him in time for the trio to ride to the line together.

Van Avermaet opened up his sprint first, and could not be pulled back – Fuglsang claiming silver as Majka settled for bronze, rubbing his cramping legs as he rolled across the finish line.

Thomas finished the race, skinsuit torn, but it was not to be for the British riders.

Rio 2016 Olympic Games: men’s road race – result

1) Greg van Avermaet – Belgium – 6.10.05hrs
2) Jakob Fuglsang – Denmark – ST
3) Rafal Majka – Poland +5”
4) Julian Alaphilippe – France +22”
5) Joaquim Rodriguez – Spain – ST
6) Fabio Aru – Italy
7) Louis Meintjes – South Africa
8) Andrey Zeits – Kazakhstan +25”
9) Tanel Kangert – Estonia +1.47
10) Rui Costa – Portugal +2.29
11) Geraint Thomas – Great Britain – ST
12) Chris Froome – Great Britain +2.58
13) Daniel Martin – Ireland – ST
14) Emanuel Buchmann – Germany – ST
15) Adam Yates – Great Britain +3.03


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