UAE Team Emirates Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar has added a Tokyo 2020 Olympics bronze medal to his haul after a thrilling men’s cycling road race in Japan on Saturday.
Richard Carapaz broke away late on to take only Ecuador’s second ever gold at the Summer Olympics, and Wout van Aert of Belgium just edged Slovenia’s Pogacar in a photo-finish sprint for silver.
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Despite the colour of the medal, a shattered Pogacar was still smiling after the arduous race, knowing he is on the podium.
Carapaz timed a tactical, final descent to perfection after a tough 234km course worthy of a mountain stage of the Tour de France, to take his place in Ecuador’s history books as a gold medal winner alongside Jefferson Perez, who won the 50km race walk at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
UAE Team Emirates’ Pogacar, bidding to become the first cyclist to win the road race in the same year as the Tour de France, had to be content with bronze, missing out by the narrowest of margins to Van Aert.
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 hold umbrellas as early temperatures soared to 32C.
The entire route accumulated a staggering 4,865 metres of climbing — more demanding than the major mountain stages of the 2021 Tour de France.
After Friday’s opening ceremony at the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium devoid of fans, it was a welcome sight to see Japanese spectators line the course around Mount Fuji — the highest point in Japan at an altitude of 3,776 metres (12,388 feet).
Britain’s Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France champion who sustained a dislocated shoulder on this year’s edition before getting back in the saddle and finishing the race, suffered an early crash and eventually withdrew.
On the final descent, Carapaz and Brandon McNulty bolted, the Ecuadoran former Giro d’Italia winner eventually dropping the American with 6km to go.
Van Aert pushed in pursuit, but nothing could stop Team Ineos rider Carapaz, who slapped his handlebars in triumph as he crossed for an impressive solo win.