For Greg Van Avermaet, the Olympic Games road race ended with one of the biggest moments of his career as he went on to beat Jakob Fuglsang for the gold medal. Others weren't quite so lucky, their race coming to an abrupt halt as body hit tarmac, generally on the tricky descent of the Vista Chinesa.
In fact, as many as four potential medal contenders saw their efforts go up in smoke on the twisting run down from the viewpoint at the city's municipal natural park. The narrow road and high kerbs gave no margin for error and caught multiple riders out on the three occasions it was tackled. Among those to fall on the descent were Geraint Thomas (Great Britain), Sergio Henao (Colombia) and Richie Porte (Australia).
It was perhaps most heart-breaking for Henao, who was in strong contention for a medal on the final descent towards the finish line when he came down with Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) on one of the many corners. Neither Henao nor Nibali would manage to get back up, their injuries proving too severe to continue. Nibali was left with fractures to both collarbones while Henao received a fracture to his iliac crest and trauma to his thorax.
Despite the serious-sounding nature of the injuries, the doctors are confident that the Colombian will recover soon enough. "He will not have complications," Colombian doctor Juan Carlos Quiceno told the newspaper El Tiempo. "It's a fracture that is no major problem. It will hurt for around four weeks, but it's not a joint it is near a tendon. It's not a serious inconvenience. In around 15 days, when the pain begins to pass, he will be able to return to the bike."
Thomas hit the deck very soon after Henao and Nibali, putting Great Britain's hopes of a medal swiftly to bed. The Welshman was luckier than the Colombian, however, avoiding the high kerbs and any serious injury. After dragging himself out of the gutter that he had so suddenly found himself in, he rode onto the finish and went straight to hospital. No broken bones were found and the team was left thinking what could have been.
"In general, great team work. The way the lads wanted to race was how they actually raced. It was just unfortunate about the crash at the end. When you think about how many riders crashed down there it was pretty mad," coach Rod Ellingworth said on the British Cycling website. "Looking at Geraint there he was proper, proper disappointed. He knew that was a proper gold medal chance."
Portugal's Nelson Oliveira fell foul on the final descent too. He failed to finish but suffered no lasting effects of the crash and will be able to ride the time trial next week. Less fortunate was Thomas' former teammate Porte, who crashed on the descent during the previous lap. Porte went wide on a left-hand turn, connected with one of the high kerbs and was sent into a tree at the side of the road. The tree stopped him from falling further down the side of the climb, but the impact also left him with a broken scapula, forcing him to miss the Olympic time trial. It had been a testing race for Porte beforehand, suffering from mechanical problems on two of the four passages over the cobbled sector.
For Wout Poels (Netherlands) it wasn't the descent that caught him out but the ascent. Poels was already in trouble, after getting dropped on several occasions, when he got into a tangle with another rider on the climb. The Dutchman landed on his arm and while it appears there is no break it could put his time trial participation at risk.
"The bloodied elbow is not too bad, but I have a lot of problems with my arm," Poels explained to NOS. "My arm should not be broken, but I need to get x-rays to be sure to check if there is nothing wrong."
The men's time trial will take place on Wednesday, August 10.
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