Vincenzo Nibali's (Italy) Olympic Games dreams ended with a double fracture of his collarbone after he crashed out of a medal contention, and the race, on the final descent. Nibali had been trying to split up his three-man breakaway group when he slipped out on a corner along with his break companion Sergio Henao.
"Unfortunately @vincenzonibali ... has a broken collarbone. The first thing he said to me: "I feel sorry for the guys." A real team ours," the Italian coach Davide Cassani wrote on Twitter.
Nibali was immediately attended to by medical staff, who tested his spine, abdomen and head for injuries but all returned negative results. However, he was diagnosed with a double fracture in his left collarbone. The Italian has already returned to Italy where he is to undergo an operation in Brescia to fit plates to his collarbone.
Nibali showed himself as one of the strongest in the 241.5km road race, held on one of the toughest courses in Olympic Games history. Surviving the opening circuits around the Grumari Park, that included punchy climbs and cobbled sections, he emerged as one of the select climbers on the more challenging Vista Chinesa loop, that included an 8.9km ascent.
The peloton was reduced on each of the three laps through Vista Chinesa, and Nibali, as most expected, emerged as one of the potential winners.
The Italian team had three riders in the decisive selection; Nibali, Fabio Aru and Damiano Caruso. Nibali made three strong accelerations up the final climb, and it was ultimately his third attack that drew out rivals Rafal Majka (Poland) and Henao (Colombia) into what looked like the winning breakaway.
All eyes were on Nibali to make one more winning attack on the tricky descent toward the finish line, a scenario he is so well-known for, but instead, he and Henao crashed around one of the switchbacks, and Majka continued on alone in pursuit of the gold medal.
In the end, Majka was caught by chasers Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) and Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) in the last kilometre of the race, and the Belgian won the sprint to the line for gold. Nibali and Henao never recovered from their accident and did not finish the race, with Italy's best finisher Aru in sixth place.
"It's really a great disappointment," Cassani told Italian television immediately after the race. "Especially for how they interpreted the race; for their selflessness, for their sacrifice and team spirit. They have achieved all that we promised and on a course like this. With these opponents, it was difficult. They were perfect."