Tokyo, Japan: Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz won Olympic gold in the men’s cycling road race on Saturday, timing to perfection a tactical, final descent after a tough 234-kilometre course worthy of a mountain stage of the Grand Tour.
It was only Ecuador’s second-ever gold at the Olympics after that of Jefferson Perez in the 50km race walk in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar, bidding to become the first cyclist to win the road race in the same year as the Tour de France, had to settle for bronze in a photo finish with Belgium’s silver medallist Wout van Aert.
“It’s an incredible moment for me,” said 28-year-old Carapaz.
“You always have to believe. I have worked so hard to be here and it’s a huge moment for me.
“I can only say thank you to them (the Ecuadoran people) for the support and, honestly, for giving us such a big push.”
Van Aert said his silver was “beautiful”, but acknowledged that the peloton had been well and truly outgunned by Carapaz.
“We knew beforehand it was going to be difficult,” he said. “Carapaz stayed ahead very well. We knew he would be very, very strong, and he deserved the win.”
The star-studded peloton rolled out of Tokyo’s Musashinonomori Park with the unusual sight — for these pandemic-delayed Games — of tens of thousands of locals lining the roads, masked and with many holding umbrellas as early temperatures soared to 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit).
The entire route accumulated a staggering 4,865 metres of climbing — more demanding than the major mountain stages of this year’s 2021 Tour de France in which Carapaz had finished third.
After Friday’s opening ceremony at the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium took place without spectators, it was a welcome sight to see people line the course around Mount Fuji — the highest point in Japan at an altitude of 3,776 metres (12,388 feet).
As the peloton sped out of the greater Tokyo conurbation, lush green forests replacing the concrete jungle, locals waved, cheered and dutifully photo-snapped as if it were a Grand Tour stage in non-coronavirus times.
Britain’s Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France champion who sustained a dislocated shoulder in this year’s edition before miraculously getting back on the saddle and finishing the race, suffered an early crash on Saturday and eventually withdrew.