Crash costs Alaphilippe his shot at Olympic gold

Disappointment all round for the strong French team

Going into the men's road race at the Olympic Games, the French boasted one of the strongest squads on paper - if also one of the youngest - but ultimately it was a day characterised by disappointment and frustration as the 60-year wait for a male medal on the road was extended. 

They had two genuine shots at gold in the form of Romain Bardet, coming into the race on the back of his best-ever Tour de France, and the precocious Julian Alaphilippe, who can climb, descend, and sprint. There was also Warren Barguil and Alexis Vuillermoz, who won the Rio test last summer.

In the end, Bardet and Barguil were hamstrung by illness, and while Alaphilippe rode impressively to fourth place, that itself felt like a defeat. 

"It's not the greatest disappointment of my career, but it does leave regrets," said Alaphilippe, who had made his way up to the second group on the final ascent of the Vista Chinesa, only to crash on the treacherous descent.

"I could have hoped for better – that's for sure – but that crash stopped me from going for the win. I gave my all after it, but it felt like my bike was broken – a couple of spokes had gone on the front, the wheel was really deformed and I had to fully open the brakes."

Despite the busted bike and bashes to the thigh and elbow, Alaphilippe got up and gave it his all, and managed to regain contact with the group on the flat. That effort, however, prevented him from being able to go with the move that closed down lone leader Rafal Majka and that shared out the medals.

"I was just thinking about going for gold – I told myself to forget about the crash," said the 24-year-old. 

"I put in a huge effort to get back to the group. When I made it up to that group, it was only Majka ahead, but I couldn't go with Van Avermaet when he attacked because I'd already made a big effort to come back."

Alaphilippe ended up being France's strongest rider but it was Bardet who arguably went into the race as the bigger favourite, having just finished second behind Chris Froome at the Tour de France – a result built on his descending and climbing skills.

The 25-year-old briefly reacted to Froome's attack from the third group on the road on the final climb of Vista Chinesa but in reality he had long since given up any real hope of gold.

"I've had gastric problems these last few days and on such a long race it's pretty unforgiving. It's a miracle that I reached the second circuit; it was the head that took over from the body – the love of the jersey and the responsibility I had," he said.

"When I was dropped by Froome I had nothing left. I'm not disappointed because I gave everything I had. That's how it is – we're not machines.

Bardet hoped to be at his best in Rio but Barguil knew he wouldn't be, having suffered with respiratory problems for a good week before the race. 

"It was really tough for me because I'm still ill," said the 24-year-old. "I did a job in the first part of the course – I fetched bidons and ice, and managed to close a big gap on the Grumari circuit when there was that big split – but I'm really disappointed because wearing the national jersey when you're not at your best is a huge frustration."

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