Van Avermaet wins gold in men's road race at Olympic Games

Fuglsang silver and Majka bronze as crashes spoil final descent

Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) won the gold medal at the end of a pulsating men’s road race at the Olympic Games in Rio after outsprinting Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) and Rafal Majka (Poland).

The trio only came together in the final kilometre after Majka looked on course to win the gold medal. The Pole had been away with Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) and Sergio Henao (Colombia) on the final and they looked set to contest the medals before Henao and Nibali both crashed on the technical descent.

A chase group, that had been left behind on the climb came off the climb 20 seconds in arrears with Majka looking to secure a famous win. However, with the race almost set, Van Avermaet and Fuglsang moved clear and caught Majka with under two kilometres remaining.

Inside the final kilometre, Majka pulled over, settling for bronze, with Van Avermaet simply having too much power and speed for the Danish rider. 

Julian Alaphilippe (France) led the remnants of the break home to take fourth in his first Olympics but the day, and the gold medal belonged to Van Avermaet, who married a tactically astute race with strong legs, bravery and luck – the perfect ingredients needed to win on such a day.

Heading into the Games Van Avermaet had admitted to Cyclingnews that on his day, although not being a pure climber, he could match the best, and he proved that. First he weathered the early crashes and then he anticipated the key moves when he jumped into a group that contained Geraint Thomas, Sergio Henao, Fuglsang and several other riders on the penultimate lap.

When Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru led a raid on the descent of the climb and bridged up to the leaders, it looked as though Van Avermaet’s race might draw to a conclusion but he rode at his own tempo – even briefly losing contact during Nibali’s quick-fire attacks - before rejoining the break before the summit of the final climb.

When Nibali attacked for the third, and then fourth time, dragging Henao and Majka with him, it looked as though the medals were secure but the Italian and the Colombian overcooked it on a corner during the final descent, leaving Majka in the lead but sorely exposed with still over 10 kilometres to go.

The Polish rider had little option but to press on but when Van Avermaet and Fuglsang made contact the only question was whether the Belgian – the strongest sprinter on paper - would finish the job. After over six hours of racing, finally a dose of predictability, and the Belgian had won gold.

How it unfolded

The road race was one of the toughest in the history of the Olympic Games. The men raced 241.5 kilometres starting and finishing in Fort Copacabana. The peloton rode 38km along the coast to the first set of circuits.

The first circuit took the riders on a 24.8km loop around Grumari Natural Park with short, pitchy climbs and a rough cobbled section. They completed that four times. They then tackled the more challenging Canoas/Vista Chinesa loop of 25.7km that included an 8.9km climb followed by a tricky descent. They completed this loop three times, and after the final ascent, they contested the descent and a flat 12km run-in to the finish line.

A breakaway set off almost right off the start line with six riders: Simon Geschke (Germany), Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland), Svan Erik Bystrom (Norway), Michael Albasini (Switzerland), Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia) and Pavel Kochetkov (Russia).

They initially gained seven minutes on the field, but that was later reduced to a more manageable five minutes along the first circuits of the road race.

Back in the field, several crashes and mechanicals happened mainly over the circuit’s rough cobbled section. Water bottles flew from the cages off the riders’ bikes over the bumpy terrain, while teams Turkey and Belarus had riders go down. Others were pushed off the cobbles onto the sandy dirt at the side of the road.

The six-man breakaway held a five-minute gap over the last of the Grumari Natural Park circuits, but it signified the beginning of an active main field behind.

Stybar and Czech Republic split field over Grumari cobbles

The Czech Republic with Zdenek Stybar, put pressure on the field that caused major splits during the last trip over the windy, cobbled section. Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas kept the speeds high over the pitchy climbs and down the tricky descent, and among those in the new group were Chris Froome, Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), and Philippe Gilbert and Van Avermaet (Belgium).

The activity in the field caused the gap to the breakaway to drop to three minutes.

Key riders in the field continued to suffer from the heat, early fatigue or mechanicals on the last Grumari circuit. Tim Wellens fell off pace, Richie Porte (Australia) had bad luck over the cobbles on two laps with a dropped chain and teammate Rohan Dennis pulled out in the feed zone, and Adam Yates (Great Britain) stalled at the side of the road waiting for a mechanical fix.

Stannard continued his work at the front of the new chase group effectively closing the gap to the original six-man breakaway to under one minute as the field exited the Grumari circuit.

Froome stopped briefly to change bikes, while also collecting a food bag at the same time. Thomas pulled to the side of the road to wait for Froome and then paced him back up to the select group.

Great Britain had help from the Spanish and Italian teams to try and completely bring back the breakaway before the start of the first big ascent on the 25km Canoas/Vista Chinesa loop. But the gap remained at two minutes well into the circuit.

Canoas/Vista Chinesa

Geschke, Kwiatkowski, Pantano, and Kochetkov were the four riders from the original breakaway that made it to the base of the first climb on the Canoas/Vista Chinesa circuit. Kwiatkowski pushed the speeds on the climb and it wasn’t long before Pantano fell off pace followed by Geschke.

Back in the field, Steve Cummings pulled off the front, finished with his job for the day, and allowed the Italian team to take over the pace setting on the lower slopes of the climb, closing the gap to Kwiatkowski and Kochetkov down to 30 seconds.

The race within the first four kilometres of the climb was active with Damiano Caruso (Italy) attacking with Van Avermaet in tow, and Thomas going along with them but not pulling through. Rein Taaramae (Estonia) managed to bridge across to the three, as did Sergio Henao (Colombia), while the Spanish team tried to control the pace of the peloton with under 60km to go. But Andrey Zeits made contact too, just as the break was surging clear.

Having missed the moves, Spain positioned Jonathan Castroviejo at the front in a bid to hold the breaks at bay and the Movistar man made sure that the entire race was separated by less than 40 seconds with 48 kilometres remaining.

War of attrition continues as Porte crashes and Nibali attacks

On the next ascent of the Vista Chinesa, Castroviejo swung off with Kwiatkowski going solo in a bid to anticipate the Thomas group. The juncture was made with 45 kilometres remaining as several pockets of riders formed mini-breaks off the front of the peloton.

Kwiatkowski eventually sat up just before the descent, with Simon Clarke pulling the peloton along at 30 seconds.

The descent proved decisive for some with Porte and Nelson Oliveria both crashing out. Porte clutched his right shoulder.

At the front of the peloton, Aru and Nibali swept clear, with a number of riders followed; Rafal Majka, Adam Yates and Jakob Fuglsang among them. Kwiatkowski also made it back into contention, providing several turns on the front in order to help Majka.

The losers of the move were Spain, and Valverde and Rodriguez, joined by Impey and Rui Costa, counter attacked. That move proved futile as Fabian Cancellara reeled them in and then set about chasing the newly formed lead group that had engineered a 50-second lead with 29 kilometres to go.

Forza Italia

With Aru, Caruso and Nibali in the lead group the onus was on the Italians to set the pace and they duly took up the reins.

Caruso peeled over on the foot of the final climb, after a huge turn from Cancellara brought the gap down to 30 seconds. Aru filled the shoes left by Caruso as Nibali sat second wheel. Zeits accelerated, which did for Yates, as Fuglsang brought back Zeits.

Further down the climb, Rodriguez and Louis Meintjes pushed on as Valverde sat up with still 22 kilometres to go.

An acceleration from Froome in the finely reduced peloton was then matched by Nibali, who blew the lead group apart before Majka, Henao, Thomas and a plucky Van Avermaet made contact.

Nibali’s second acceleration was more ferocious than the first but the lapse in speed that followed allowed Fuglsang to also re-join with Froome, Bardet and Yates at roughly a minute.

Rodriguez and Meintjes then made contact too just on the verge of the short descent, mid-way through the climb. Alaphilippe followed suit, cutting through groups, including the Froome one, before the summit.

Meanwhile, Nibali’s third move drew Henao out with 17 kilometres to go, with Majka making contact soon after.

The fourth attack from Nibali briefly created daylight but Henao and Majka came back once more.

Nibali and Henao crash

On the descent, disaster struck for Nibali and Henao, both riders crashing, leaving Majka clear and on his own with 11km to go.

Thomas was the next rider to crash as Majka hit the flat section with 11 seconds over the rest of the chase.

Had the finish line come just three or four kilometres earlier, Majka might have held out, but with his face twisted in pain, and he had little answer when Van Avermaet and Fuglsang bridged over to him.

All that was left was for Van Avermaet to finish the job, and raise his hands in victory to take the biggest win of his career.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium)6:10:05 
2Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark)  
3Rafal Majka (Poland)0:00:05 
4Julian Alaphilippe (France)0:00:22 
5Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spain)  
6Fabio Aru (Italy)  
7Louis Meintjes (South Africa)  
8Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan)0:00:25 
9Tanel Kangert (Estonia)0:01:47 
10Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Portugal)0:02:29 
11Geraint Thomas (Great Britain)  
12Christopher Froome (Great Britain)0:02:58 
13Daniel Martin (Ireland)  
14Emanuel Buchmann (Germany)  
15Adam Yates (Great Britain)0:03:03 
16Brent Bookwalter (United States Of America)0:03:31 
17Bauke Mollema (Netherlands)  
18Kristijan Durasek (Croatia)  
19Sébastien Reichenbach (Switzerland)  
20Frank Schleck (Luxembourg)  
21Jhoan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Colombia)0:03:34 
22Serge Pauwels (Belgium)0:06:12 
23Alexis Vuillermoz (France)  
24Romain Bardet (France)  
25Simon Clarke (Australia)  
26Primož Roglic (Slovenia)0:09:38 
27Yukiya Arashiro (Japan)  
28Daryl Impey (South Africa)  
29Nicolas Roche (Ireland)  
30Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain)  
31Sergei Chernetski (Russian Federation)  
32Christopher Juul Jensen (Denmark)  
33George Bennett (New Zealand)0:11:49 
34Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)  
35Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania)0:12:18 
36Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Portugal)  
37Eduardo Sepulveda (Argentina)  
38Pavel Kochetkov (Russian Federation)  
39Steven Kruijswijk (Netherlands)  
40Damiano Caruso (Italy)  
41Andriy Grivko (Ukraine)0:13:18 
42Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)  
43Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eritrea)0:19:20 
44Georg Preidler (Austria)0:19:37 
45Patrik Tybor (Slovakia)0:20:00 
46Aleksejs Saramotins (Latvia)  
47Anasse Ait El Abdia (Morocco)  
48Lars Petter Nordhaug (Norway)  
49Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus)  
50Vegard Stake Laengen (Norway)  
51Ioannis Tamouridis (Greece)  
52Jan Polanc (Slovenia)  
53José Joao Pimenta Costa Mendes (Portugal)  
54Andrey Amador Bikkazakova (Costa Rica)  
55Michael Woods (Canada)  
56Michal Golas (Poland)  
57Simon Spilak (Slovenia)  
58Petr Vakoc (Czech Republic)  
59Toms Skujins (Latvia)  
60Chris Anker Sörensen (Denmark)  
61Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kazakhstan)  
62Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)  
63Alessandro De Marchi (Italy)0:20:05 
OTLMurilo Antonio Fischer (Brazil)0:31:47 
OTLIgnatas Konovalovas (Lithuania)  
DNFJonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spain)  
DNFImanol Erviti (Spain)  
DNFJon Izaguirre Insausti (Spain)  
DNFSergio Luis Henao Montoya (Colombia)  
DNFMiguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Colombia)  
DNFJarlinson Pantano Gomez (Colombia)  
DNFRigoberto Uran Uran (Colombia)  
DNFWarren Barguil (France)  
DNFStephen Cummings (Great Britain)  
DNFIan Stannard (Great Britain)  
DNFRohan Dennis (Australia)  
DNFScott Bowden (Australia)  
DNFRichie Porte (Australia)  
DNFLaurens De Plus (Belgium)  
DNFTim Wellens (Belgium)  
DNFTom Dumoulin (Netherlands)  
DNFWout Poels (Netherlands)  
DNFVincenzo Nibali (Italy)  
DNFDiego Rosa (Italy)  
DNFMichael Albasini (Switzerland)  
DNFSteve Morabito (Switzerland)  
DNFSimon Geschke (Germany)  
DNFMaximilian Levy (Germany)  
DNFTony Martin (Germany)  
DNFEdvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)  
DNFSven Erik Bystrøm (Norway)  
DNFMaciej Bodnar (Poland)  
DNFJan Barta (Czech Republic)  
DNFLeopold Konig (Czech Republic)  
DNFZdenek Stybar (Czech Republic)  
DNFDenys Kostyuk (Ukraine)  
DNFAndriy Khripta (Ukraine)  
DNFMatej Mohoric (Slovenia)  
DNFGhader Mizbani Iranagh (Islamic Republic of Iran)  
DNFArvin Moazami Godarzi (Islamic Republic of Iran)  
DNFMirsamad Pourseyedigolakhour (Islamic Republic of Iran)  
DNFNelson Filipe Santos Simoes Oliveira (Portugal)  
DNFAbderrahmane Mansouri (Algeria)  
DNFYoucef Reguigui (Algeria)  
DNFStefan Denifl (Austria)  
DNFSoufiane Haddi (Morocco)  
DNFMouhssine Lahsaini (Morocco)  
DNFTaylor Phinney (United States Of America)  
DNFRein Taaramae (Estonia)  
DNFZac Williams (New Zealand)  
DNFAntoine Duchesne (Canada)  
DNFHugo Houle (Canada)  
DNFVasil Kiryienka (Belarus)  
DNFKohei Uchima (Japan)  
DNFOkcheol Kim (Korea)  
DNFJoonyong Seo (Korea)  
DNFJonathan Monsalve (Venezuela)  
DNFMiguel Ubeto Aponte (Venezuela)  
DNFMatija Kvasina (Croatia)  
DNFDaniel Diaz (Argentina)  
DNFMaximiliano Ariel Richeze (Argentina)  
DNFKing Lok Cheung (Hong Kong, China)  
DNFJose Luis Rodriguez (Chile)  
DNFAdrien Niyonshuti (Rwanda)  
DNFMaxim Averin (Azerbaijan)  
DNFSerghei Tvetcov (Romania)  
DNFLuis Enrique Davila (Mexico)  
DNFOnur Balkan (Turkey)  
DNFAhmet Orken (Turkey)  
DNFKleber Da Silva Ramos (Brazil)  
DNFAli Nouisri (Tunisia)  
DNFStefan Hristov (Bulgaria)  
DNFManuel Rodas Ochoa (Guatemala)  
DNFBayron Guama De La Cruz (Ecuador)  
DNFIvan Stevic (Serbia)  
DNFTsgabu Gebremaryam Grmay (Ethiopia)  
DNFDiego Milan Jimenez (Dominican Republic)  
DNFDan Craven (Namibia)  
DNFOscar Soliz (Bolivia)  
DNFQendrim Guri KOS  
DNFBrian Babilonia (Puerto Rico)  
DNFYousef Mirza Banihammad (United Arab Emirates)  
DNFAriya Phounsavath (Lao People's Democratic Republic)  
DNFAlexey Kurbatov (Russian Federation)  

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