Richard Carapaz wins only Ecuador’s second ever Olympic gold
Wout van Aert sprints to silver; Tadej Pogacar takes bronze
Adam Yates is highest placed Team GB rider finishing ninth
Geraint Thomas withdraws from race following crash
A wonderfully entertaining and predictably brutal men’s Olympic road race around the foothills of Mount Fuji did not end happily for Geraint Thomas. The Welshman said he felt he “must have done something bad in a previous life” after yet another crash put paid to his chances. It came just three weeks after he dislocated his shoulder at the Tour de France.
Thomas was taken out by his GB team-mate Tao Geoghegan Hart relatively early in proceedings and decided to pit as the peloton passed the Fuji Speedway race track for the first time. It is unclear how serious the damage to Thomas’s chassis is. He claimed last night that he was feeling “beat up but not too bad”. But the 35 year-old has a reputation for putting a brave face on things.
There is no doubt this latest spill – on the same right side of his body as the crash in France, after which he had to have his shoulder popped back in – has jeopardised his hopes of a medal in next week’s Olympic time trial.
The quality of the opposition on Wednesday was already looking stiff even for a fully-fit Thomas: Filippo Ganna, Wout van Aert, Tadej Pogacar, Rohan Dennis, Stefan Kung… But with a badly-bruised body his job is made exponentially harder.
“I’ve felt worse,” Thomas said. “But I’ve definitely felt better, too. Obviously, I landed on my right side again, which wasn’t ideal, just the muscles and everything went into spasm almost. Luckily my shoulder didn’t pop out this time.”
His elbow was badly cut, though, and his cycling shorts ripped to shreds.
Thomas’ crash was one of few sour notes in an event which absolutely lived up to its billing, delivering a brilliant race, a thoroughly deserving winner in Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz, and an all-star podium with Wout van Aert (Belgium) second and double Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia) third.
Team GB were well represented, too. Although Thomas and Geoghegan Hart crashed, Adam Yates made an elite final selection, eventually finishing ninth from a reduced bunch sprint behind solo winner Carapaz. It was a creditable result on an epic day. The 234km route from Musashinonomori Park in Tokyo to the Formula 1 race track at Fuji Speedway had been talked up as one of the toughest in cycling history.
Taking in loops of the lower slopes of Japan’s most famous volcano, the scenery was stunning throughout with Mount Fuji rising imperiously through the clouds. Ireland’s Eddie Dunbar described it as one of the most beautiful courses he had ever ridden.
But it took no prisoners. Carapaz crossed the line more than six hours after setting off. And with the peloton having to negotiate almost 5000m of vertical ascent along the way, in 35oC heat and Lycra-drenching humidity, it was a sweaty old business. Yates said by the end he was “cramping everywhere”.
That the 28 year-old managed to finish in a group with favourites Pogacar and van Aert, on such a difficult course, was greatly to his credit.
The British rider, whose twin Simon finished 17th in the next group back on the road, even opened up the sprint for the silver medal but he was well beaten in the end, van Aert just pipping Pogacar to second place in a photo finish.
It was a grandstand finish in front of the only packed grandstands we might see at these Games, a reminder of what might have been, with an estimated 10,000 fans taking advantage of Fuji prefecture’s more relaxed Covid rules.
Carapaz, who finished third overall at the recent Tour de France, played his cards perfectly, clipping off the front with 26km to go, along with American Brandon McNulty, and escaping over the top of the final climb.
With the chasing group not cooperating – perhaps wary of taking Van Aert to the finish – Carapaz and McNulty managed to open up a 45-second lead before the gap began to fall, whereupon Carapaz attacked again, solo.
This time there was no stopping him. The 2019 Giro d’Italia won by over a minute, raising his arms aloft as he crossed the line. It was only the second Olympic gold medal in Ecuador’s history after race walker Jefferson Leonardo Pérez, who won gold at Atlanta 1996.
Thomas has won as many as that on his own, having taken gold in the team pursuit in both 2008 and 2012.
The Welshman’s chances of winning a third look to be over, however. “Think I must have done something bad in a previous life,” the Welshman tweeted gloomily last night. “Freak crash, Tao lost his front wheel and decked it in front of me. I had nowhere to go, other than the floor as well.”
Carapaz wins Olympic gold!
Richard Carapaz, the 28-year-old from Ecuador, has won the men’s road race in Tokyo following a perfectly timed and executed attack. That is only the second ever gold medal won by an Ecudorian at the Olympics after Jefferson Pérez won the 20km walk at Atlanta in 1996.
A minute or so after Carapaz made another little slice of cycling history, Belgian rider Wout van Aert outsprinted Tadej Pogacar to take silver medal, while the Slovenian had to settle for bronze.
Adam Yates was the highest placed Team GB rider, finishing ninth in the reduced bunch 1min 7sec behind new Olympic champion Carapaz. However, it was a disappointing race for Geraint Thomas who crashed before abandoning, while Tao Geoghegan Hart who went down in the same incident as the Welshman also withdrew.
1.5km to go
Richard Carapaz takes a look over his right shoulder, but he doesn’t miss a pedal stroke and will, I am almost certain, be taking gold.
4km to go
Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) increases his lead to 31sec as he reaches the final circuit. Wout van Aert (Belgium) is, once again, leading the chase, with Bauke Mollema (Netherlands), Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia) and the rest – David Gaudu (France), Brandon McNulty (USA), Maximilian Schachmann (Germany), Rigoberto Urán (Colombia), Michael Woods (Canada) and Adam Yates (Great Britain) – trailing.
4.5km to go
Michael Woods flies off the front of the chasing group, but he is soon closed down. Brandon McNulty is caught and dropped.
5.8km to go
Richard Carapaz drops Brandon McNulty. Not sure if the American cramped up, but either way there is one leader of this race and his legion of fans back in Ecuador will be going crazy right now.
7km to go
Adam Yates takes a short turn of the front of the pursuers, the Briton is followed by Tadej Pogacar as the group finally starts to work together sensing that they may, against all odds, be able to catch Richard Carapaz. Absolutely nail-biting finale incoming.
8.5km to go
Wout van Aert, second at the world time trial championships in Imola last year and winner of the final time trial at the Tour de France last Saturday, is pulling the chasing group along. Powering on the front the Belgian has eaten into the lead of Richard Carapaz, the rider from Ecuador whose gap has been whittled down to just 14sec.
11km to go
Wout van Aert puts in a huge effort off the front of the chasing bunch. David Gaudu chases, catches and then is asked to take a turn but the Frenchman refuses, offering the Belgian a nice Gallic shrug.
13km to go
A flick of the elbow from Richard Carapaz tells Brandon McNulty it is his turn to pull through which is exactly what the young American does. The youngster will have to measure his efforts here and not get bullied into doing more work than necessary or he will be getting rolled over by Carapaz. Forgot to mention it, but Alberto Bettiol’s day is done after the Italian cramped up a few minutes ago.
15km to go
Richard Carapaz, the winner of the Giro d’Italia in 2019, and Brandon McNulty, the 23-year-old from Phoenix who has been tipped as the next big thing in American cycling, are gaining on the pre-race favourites who may have to battle for bronze. They lead by 50sec.
19km to go
Very few in the chasing group appear too happy to do much work. Hardly surprising as nobody will want to take Wout van Aert, who won a sprint finish on the Champs-Élysées in Paris last week, to the line. As a result, Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) and Brandon McNulty (USA) are gaining more and more time – they lead by 33sec.
Thomas: It was a ‘freak crash’
23.3km to go
Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) sets off in pursuit of his trade team pal Richard Carapaz and Brandon McNulty.
23.5km to go
Brandon McNulty (USA) and Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) are the next to attack, the duo gaining over 20sec in a short spell. Benefiting, perhaps, from the others watching each other closely. Clever move.
25km to go
Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), runner-up to Greg Van Avermaet in Rio in 2016, ghosted off the front but was reeled back in. Team GB rider Adam Yates has managed to get into the leading group.
28km to go
Bauke Mollema clips off the front, but nobody is about the give him a free ride. The Dutchman has a tendency to attack near the bottom of descents as the group busies itself marking each other, but after pulling that stunt en route to winning a stage at the recent Tour de France this tactic will be fresh in the minds of this group of riders.
30km to go
Michael Woods leads the way down the descent, while Wout van Aert, the best all-rounder in the world right now, and Tadej Pogacar, the two-time Tour de France champion, mark each other closely.
33km to go
Maximilian Schachmann (Germany) is a handful of seconds off the back of the leading group, followed by Team GB rider Adam Yates. A very steep and twisty decent to follow which looks not too dissimilar to the finale in Rio five years ago. Hopefully everybody can navigate their way down this one safely.
34km to go
Wout van Aert has bridged over to the Tadej Pogacar group. Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), who pulled out of the Tour de France with one stage to go to concentrate on today’s race, is hanging towards the rear.
35km to go
Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland) and Richard Carapaz (Ecudaor), team-mates at Ineos Grenadiers but rivals here today, clipped off the front before bridging over to Tadej Pogacar. Alberto Bettiol (Italy) has done brilliantly to get over, but Wout van Aert has been distanced which was, presumably, exactly what this group wanted to do.
36km to go
Wout van Aert digs deep as the road pitches up to around 15%, Alberto Bettiol is hanging with the Belgian, while Rigoberto Urán (Colombia) is clinging on and David Gaudu is suffering –the young Frenchman appears to be screaming in pain.
37km to go | Pogacar rolls off the front
Not a huge injection of pace, but a measured effort from Tadej Pogacar sees the Slovenian pull away from the peloton as the road pitches up. Brandon McNulty, a trade team-mate of Pogacar’s, and Michael Woods (Canada) are the only two able to hold the wheel of the Slovenian who last week sealed his second Tour de France title.
38km to go
The race is on the toughest climb of the day, the Mikuni Pass, and you can tell. Some strong riders are being dropped, one-by-one drifting off the back as Tiesj Benoot dances, almost breathlessly, out of his pedals on the front for Belgium. Giulio Ciccone and Vincenzo Nibali appear to have slowly roasted themselves and are pedalling squares, likewise Jan Tratnik is done for the day following a huge shift on the front from the Slovenian. Kasper Asgreen (Denmark) is also going backwards, while Nairo Quintana is struggling. At over 10% in gradient this climb is too steep for the Colombian climber. Adam Yates, however, has been spotted up near the front of the pack.
Four Italians shuffle towards the front on the pack and are drilling it. Damiano Caruso, Giulio Ciccone and Vincenzo Nibali appear to be the workhorses, but will Gianni Moscon or Alberto Bettiol fancy their chances against the might of Wout van Aert or Tadej Pogacar?
48km to go
Eddie Dunbar, Remco Evenepoel and Vincenzo Nibali are caught by the bunch. Belgium allowed riders from France and Kazakhstan to do much of the chasing there. France, who presumably are riding for David Gaudu today, are pulling on the front. Team GB rider Tao Geoghegan Hart, meanwhile, is hanging off the rear as the race re-enters the second circuit of the Fuji International Speedway track.
Remco Evenepoel counter-attacks, taking with him Irish climber Eddie Dunbar. Vincenzo Nibali sees the move before the Italian follows. This is a strong trio of riders, all worthy champions. The breakaway has splintered and their day appears to be over.
53km to go
Damiano Caruso, the Italian who was a surprise runner-up at the Giro d’Italia in May, has attacked off the front of the peloton and just tow riders responded. Mauri Vansevenant (Belgium) and Wilco Kelderman (Netherlands) go with Caruso, but the young Belgian refuses to contribute knowing that any work he would do in that small group may damage the hopes of Wout van Aert.
Team GB rider Thomas abandons
Unsurprisingly, Geraint Thomas has called it a day. After crashing earlier the Welshman had suffered badly and will now switch his focus to Wednesday’s time trial.
61km to go
Simon Yates is spotted towards the rear of the peloton, the Bury-born rider another one to have his jersey unzipped. It is not uncommon for the Briton to ride near the back so wouldn’t read too much into that. The breakaway has lost a few more seconds, while a few minor splits have appeared in the peloton as it treks around the wide Fuji International Speedway. There are some fatigued looking riders sitting down the field in the slipstream of Jan Tratnik.
64km to go
Onto the Fuji International Speedway where there are full crowds in the stands where the riders will complete one lap of the circuit before taking in a lap of the time trial course that Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart will race on Wednesday. Dutchman Tom Dumoulin is spotted in the bunch looking lean, but not too mean.
70km to go
Alejandro Valverde is back! The wily old fox who apparently was the flagbearer for Spain in the first ever Olympic Games* must have descended like a demon and is back on as the race approaches the circuit part of the race. Poles Maciej Bodnar, Michal Kwiatkowski and Rafal Majka are tucked in behind Jan Tratnik who is still dragging the peloton along. Majka, incidentally, is in fine form having ridden for Tadej Pogacar at the Tour de France where he was regularly the last man in the mountains and won bronze in Rio.
*This is clearly untrue.
76.5km to go
Interesting to not that Remco Evenepoel is leading the peloton down this long descent off Mount Fuji. I had wondered if the young Belgian had hoped to race for himself today, but it appears he is playing a team role on behalf of Wout van Aert. The breakaway’s lead had ropped further still to 4min 20sec.
85km to go
A flurry of half-hearted attacks on the front of the peloton come to nothing. Lots of looking around in the bunch as everybody watches out to see who’s positioned where and how many team-mates they have around them. Colombian climber Nairo Quintana is forced to drop back to a team car to take another bottle or some food.
88.5km to go
Tao Geoghegan Hart has embedded himself in the pack of Belgians near the front of the race, though the Briton has no team-mates alongside him – is he riding for himself? Oh crikey, Alejandro Valverde has been dropped. That is a big surprise. The breakaway’s lead has plummeted to a shade over five minutes as they plummet down the descent over the other side of Mount Fuji.
93km to go
Giulio Ciccone shifts to the front of the peloton, the increase in pace from the Italian climber causing a few more rider to drop off the back, including Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic), Ryan Gibbons (South Africa), Yukiya Arashiro (Japan) and the French national champion Rémi Cavagna.
95km to go
Omar Fraile is the latest rider to have been shelled by the bunch, his departure will leave the Spanish team with just four riders still at the pointy end of the race – Jesús Herrada, Gorka Izagirre, Ion Izagirre and Alejandro Valverde. Italy who have barely been spotted today, have moved up slightly. They have a very strong team in Alberto Bettiol, Damiano Caruso, Giulio Ciccone, Gianni Moscon and Vincenzo Nibali, but do they have a rider able to take on the likes of Tadej Pogacar or Wout van Aert later in the day?
97km to go
Geraint Thomas has just dropped back the the Team GB support car where he was spotted getting a very sticky bottle. At the other end of the pack, the Belgians are looking surprisingly fresh with young climber-puncheur Mauri Vansevenant bouncing around on his pedals as the road continues to rise up the side of Mount Fuji.
98.5km to go
British team-mates Simon Yates and Geraint Thomas are sat around two thirds of the way down the peloton as the pace ramps up of the long and steady climb up Mount Fuji. Reigning champion Greg Van Avermaet has been dropped, the Belgian’s race is over while compatriot Tiesj Benoot sits on the wheel of Jan Tratnik who, you’ve guessed it, is still riding on the front of the dwindling bunch.
100km to go
Tao Geoghegan Hart has shifted up towards the front of the field, tucked in behind the four remaining Belgian riders after Greg Van Avermaet drifted down the pack. Is that Van Avermaet’s day done? It looks as if it may be. The breakaway’s lead drops to 10min 30sec.
102.5km to go
Jan Polanc, one of the four Slovenians here today, has dropped out of the bunch. It appears the 29-year-old had suffered a minor mechanical issue but he shouldn’t have too much trouble at chasing back on. Jan Tratnik (Slovenia) is still riding on the front of the peloton, the Bahrain Victorious rider has his jersey fully unzipped as he shows visible signs of feeling the heat which is hardly surprising.
There she is . . .
104km to go
Paul Daumont (Burkina Faso) is reabsorbed by the peloton which now has a new man helping out on the front. Patrick Bevin, one of two Kiwi riders here today, has taken over on the front pulling ahead of Jan Tratnik (Slovenia) and Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium).
105km to go
The breakaway is very much onto the Fuji Sanroku climb, the longest in today’s race. The road surface is absolutely perfect, as is the norm in Japan from my limited experience.
108km to go
As the five-man break inches toward the beginning of the climb up the side of Mount Fuji its lead drops slightly. Jan Tratnik (Slovenia) is an absolute machine and, along with Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium), is continuing to pull along this peloton as a phalanx of favourites bunch up behind sucking on their wheels.
118km to go
Snaking down the beautiful looking descent off the Kagosaka Pass, the peloton continues to drive on in pursuit of the five-man breakaway (at 14min 35sec) on the approach to the longest climb of the day up the side of the famous Mount Fuji. Guillaume Martin is spinning out, alomost looking as if he has ran out of gears, as the Frenchman chases back on.
122km to go
Frenchman Guillaume Martin is the latest to take a bike change and once again it appeared to take an age to get his team car up to him. The 28-year-old who finished eighth at the Tour de France less than a week ago, though, stayed calm.
132km to go
The breakaway has split up, leaving a five-man group – Orluis Aular (Venezuela), Nic Dlamini (South Africa), Michael Kukrle (Czech Republic), Juraj Sagan (Slovakia) and Polychronis Tzortzakis (Greece) – leading by around 16 minutes, while a trio of Paul Daumont (Burkina Faso), Eduard-Michael Grosu (Romania) and Ruidong Wang (China) are about a minute or so down the road.
135km to go
Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) and Jan Tratnik (Slovenia) are continuing to work on the front, but none of the other big hitters – France, Spain and the Dutch – are lending a hand. With two, or arguably three, of the overriding favourites nobody appears too keen to help, knowing that each kilometre ridden on the front may tire out the Belgians and Slovenians.
Hot, hot, hot!
Stephen Park, the performance director at British Cycling, has been on the blower to Eurosport and just told the that it is 35ºC out on the course. That is going to hurt and will go some way to explaining why riders are constantly dropping back to their team cars to take on for fluids. Although it is not raining, there’s a quite a bit of water on the road. Wet surfaces on the descents later on today will not be good.
Mind the gap
Although we cannot confirm this, it would appear that the crash may have been caused by a narrow tramline-like gap down the centre of the road. It appears roughly the width of a bike wheel and much like we see in the one-day Belgian classics, once a rider drops into one of these they rarely escape unscathed.
Team GB’s Thomas crashes!
Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart have crashed in the peloton, with the Welshman looking to have been the worst affected with cuts and bruises all down the left-hand side of his body. Blood is pouring down his elbow and the upper part of his right glute is on show to the watching world. Thomas does not have the best of luck when it come to crashes and lost the chance to challenge for a medal at the Rio Olympics after he fell in the frenetic finale in 2016.
Although back on his bike Thomas, who was helped back up by Geoghegan Hart, has ripped his shorts and jersey. Both of these riders are representing Team GB in Wednesday’s time trial and so the implications of this crash may be wider than just on this road race today. Nairo Quintana (Colombia) also went down in that spill.
155km to go
Interesting to note that Poland’s entire three-man team comprising Maciej Bodnar, Michal Kwiatkowski and Rafal Majka are riding up near the front of the peloton which is still being controlled by Slovenia’s Jan Tratnik. Eddie Dunbar (Ireland) is sat on the wheel of Tadej Pogacar at eighth wheel, followed by the five-man Spanish armada which has the veteran Alejandro Valverde sat down the line, suggesting he may be their protected rider today. Though not riding at full pelt, one gets the impression that the race is starting to form.
160km to go
Peeter Pruus (Estonia) takes a bike change, but unfortunately for him and maybe later in the day his team-mate Tanel Kangert it was not the quickest. He lost around 45sec on the peloton and so will have to put in a big effort to get back on. The road which is on carpet-smooth asphalt is rising at around 4-5% in gradient, the kind of climb easily tackled in the big ring, on the approach to the day’s first climb ‘proper’ the Doushi Road.
167km to go
Elchin Asadov (Azerbaijan) has been dropped by the breakaway which has a sizeable lead of around 20 minutes on the peloton. Orluis Aular (Venezuela), Nic Dlamini (South Africa), Eduard-Michael Grosu (Romania), Michael Kukrle (Czech Republic), Juraj Sagan (Slovakia), Polychronis Tzortzakis (Greece) and Ruidong Wang (China) may be dreaming of glory today, but the big guns are starting to organise themselves back in the bunch. Jan Tratnik has shunted himself towards the head of the field alongside Greg Van Avermaet, the two teams of the favourites appear to have formed an unholy alliance as they start to think about taking control of the race.
170km to go
Namibian rider Tristan De Lange has decided to ride off the front of the peloton and get himself some primetime TV time. Andrey Amador (Costa Rica) and Alejandro Vaalverde (Spain), former trade team-mates at Movistar, did not appear too concerned as the 24-year-old drifted off up the road as they continued chatting together dead centre and on the front row of a relaxed looking bunch.
What’s on the menu today?
Described by Matt Brammeier, Team GB’s elite men’s road coach, as ‘really, really hard’, today’s race features 4,685 metres in vertical elevation over five climbs of note along with a series of smaller little lumps. “It’s the hardest [Olympics] course I’ve ever seen,” Brammeier told Telegraph Sport this week. “You’ve got the heat, the humidity. It’s a really long race, close to 250km. There’s 4,500m of climbing and the hardest climb comes with 30km to go, right at the back end of the race.”
The first climb of the day, Doushi Road, comes at around 80km into the race and at just 4.3km in length at an average gradient of 6.2% and is followed shortly afterwards by the Kagosaka Pass (2.2km at 4.8%). Both will act as nice little appetiser for what lies ahead.
Fuji Sanroku (Mount Fuji) is 14.5km long at 6% and is the highest point in the race, topping out at 1,449 metres above sea level. Although not especially high compared with the high Alpine an Pyrenean passes used in this month’s Tour de France, the heat and humidity may make this a tougher test in real life than on paper. The penultimate climb of the day, the Mikuni Pass, is a short (6.8km), but brutal (10.1%) climb that pitches up to a maximum gradient of 17% so an ideal spot for attacks from any puncheurs in the pack. And finally, the Kagosaka Pass is just 2.2km long at 4.7%, topping at just over 20km from the finishing line and may represent to last point for any attacks, or final shake-ups.
190km to go
Belgium appear to have decided to knocked off the pace on the front. Everybody knows that they are, along with Slovenia, are the favourites for today’s race and so are expected to do most of the heavy lifting on the front. However, unlike most professional races that feature teams of seven or eight riders it is more difficult to control an event of this length with just five riders and Belgium will not want to burn their rider out too soon. The heat and humidity today will most likely play a huge role in the outcome of the race and so management of resources will be absolutely key to winning.
If you are new to cycling and are wondering why Azerbaijan has just one rider competing in the race, but Belgium has five – the maximum permitted – then don’t worry almost everybody asks that. The team sizes are determined by the number of UCI (International Cycling Union, cycling’s world governing body) points earned by riders from its federation in the year preceding the competition (in this case 2019). In short, the stronger nations – Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and, of course, the Dutch – get more slots, while the less strong nations get fewer. Incidentally, any rider that is competing in the time trial has to also feature in the road race.
200km to go
The eight-man breakaway has eked out a few more minutes on the peloton, but I don’t think anybody is too concerned about them just yet. However, it is interesting to note that defending champion Greg Van Avermaet has moved towards the front to control the pace of the main bunch. The Belgian is part of a very strong five-man team that includes Wout van Aert, the best all-rounder in the world right now, and Remco Evenepoel – both riders capable of winning today.
Starting list in full . . .
Wout van Aert
Greg Van Avermaet
Tao Geoghegan Hart
Hiu Fung Choi
Dylan van Baarle
Tristan De Lange
Mohcine El Kouraji
Tobias Halland Johannessen
Christofer Robín Jurado
Stefan de Bod
Sagan gets into early breakaway!
No not that one, but his brother Juraj Sagan who is part of Slovakia’s two-man team in today’s race has managed to bury himself in the day’s first breakaway. Sagan is alongside Michael Kukrle (Czech Republic), Nic Dlamini (South Africa), Eduard-Michael Grosu (Romania), Polychronis Tzortzakis (Greece), Orluis Aular (Venezuela), Ruidong Wang (China), Elchin Asadov (Azerbaijan) in an eight-man break that has gained 4min 30sec on the relaxed looking peloton.
There are two WorldTour riders in here – Dlamini (Qhubeka NextHash) and Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) – while just one of them was in action at the recent Tour de France. Dlamini made a little bit of history at the Tour when he became the first black South African to compete at the world’s biggest bike race, though he left by the side door after missing the time cut during a brutal day in the mountains.
Hello folks, and welcome to our live rolling blog from the men’s Olympic road race, the 234-kilometre drag from Musashinonomori Park to Fuji International Speedway in Japan. The riders have navigated their way through the neutralised section of the race, passing by some beautiful looking temples and some surprisingly big crowds, and the officials have got the racing under way proper.
Wiggins: ‘Pogacar will be marked man’
Favourite Tadej Pogacar will be a “marked man” as he attempts to claim gold in the Olympic road race, according to former Tour de France and Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins.
Pogacar claimed his second consecutive Tour de France title on Sunday by a handsome margin and is tipped as the man to beat in Tokyo.
Wiggins, who won the 2012 Tour de France and the time trial at the London Olympics a couple of weeks later, believes it might be a tough ask of the 22-year-old Slovenian in the heat and humidity, and with such a quick turnaround.
“Naturally he will be a bit tired coming off the Tour and regardless of form, it’s always difficult, just the emotional side of winning the Tour de France and trying to back up,” Wiggins, an expert for Olympic broadcaster Discovery, told Reuters by Zoom on Friday.
“He was on my flight out on Monday and he looked pretty fresh to be honest, but it’s always difficult and there are the likes of Wout van Aert who finished the Tour superstrong, so he will have some tough challengers.
“But if anyone can do it, it’s Pogacar because he’s a phenomenon of the sport, but he’s going to be a marked man, that’s for sure.”
Pogacar trained on the course on Thursday and described the humidity as “awful” and the final 6.5-km Mikuni Pass climb at 11% average gradient as “brutal” but his team manager believes he will be ready to go full out on the 234-km course that is being described as the toughest in Olympic history.
“I think he has regenerated. They are predicting slightly lower temperatures for Saturday, it would definitely be better if that came true, but otherwise I don’t see any problems,” Andrej Hauptman, Pogacar’s sports director at the UAE Emirates Team, told Slovenia’s RTV.
“He also rode great on the Tour in some hot stages, so I’m not worried. He is also motivated to the maximum. He didn’t even finish the race in France particularly exhausted.”
Primoz Roglic, a two-time Vuelta de Espana champion, is both Pogacar’s team-mate and medal rival, although he is probably eyeing the time trial on Wednesday. Slovenians Jan Tratnik and Jan Polanc will be working for their more illustrious compatriots.
While Slovenia is expected to medal, Hauptman said the race could be difficult to control.
“In cycling, the top is very wide open, and one-day races are something special,” he said. “Teams will not have eight riders, but a maximum of five, and some good ones on the climbs will not have good assistants here.”
Wiggins predicts there will be a “whittling down process” in the early stages of the race and predicts few of the 130 starters will actually reach the finish at Fuji Speedway.
“The time adjustment, coming here late from what was a very tough Tour de France, they will feel the effect of that this week looking at this course and the heat,” the Briton said. Reuters