Carapaz trumps Pogacar in Olympic road race to win rare Ecuador gold
TOKIO, JULY 24: 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 be content with bronze in a photo finish with Belgium's silver medallist Wout van Aert.
"It's an incredible moment for me," said the 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."
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 toting 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 the 2021 Tour de France in which Carapaz had finished third.
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).
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.
Nic Dlamini, who this month became the first black South African to race the Tour de France, led a lead group of five riders up and over the Kagosaka Pass and then dived into a long descent before the climb to Fuji Sanroku (14.3km at 6 percent).
Riders hit speeds of up to 85 kilometres per hour (53 miles per hour) coming down from the second of the three major climbs. -AFP