Richard Carapaz continues to make history for Ecuador. After claiming the country’s first Grand Tour title with his triumph at the 2019 Giro d’Italia, he more recently became the first to stand on the podium of the Tour de France. But his latest feat tops all that, and then some.
"There is no comparison," he said on Saturday, with an Olympic gold medal hanging from his neck.
"This is the best thing that could have happened to me in my life."
On a sultry Saturday in Tokyo, Carapaz clinched the men’s road race title to become the second Ecuadorian to win an Olympic medal in the history of the Games. Only the walker Jefferson Pérez has come before him, with a gold in Atlanta in 1996 and a silver in Beijing in 2008.
"Back in my country right now, they’ll be going crazy," Carapaz said in his winner's press conference.
"It’s the second gold medal in our history. If I’m not mistaken, it’s 24 years since the last one, so it’s special. It’s special because it’s the first in this sport and I think it’s the sport most people follow in my country.
"We’ve had a lot of good achievements, some good titles, and now another one with this gold medal. It’s incredible."
Carapaz had never won a one-day event before but racing nous has been a hallmark as he has established himself as one of the leading and most consistent Grand Tour riders in the past few years.
Lining up in Tokyo as one arm of a two-man Ecuadorian team – alongside Jhonatan Narvaez – and facing the threats of Tadej Pogačar’s climbing and Wout van Aert’s finishing, he knew he had to race smart. And that’s exactly what he did.
"I simply waited for my moment," he said, as if he was reading the race with 20-20 vision the whole time.
Carapaz didn’t directly respond when Pogačar opened up the race on Mikuni Pass but was nevertheless present and correct among the select dozen that went over the top. After that, attacks began to fly as the race became tactical, and when he saw Brandon McNulty (USA) open up with 25km to go, he immediately jumped on board.
The pair opened a gap and collaborated to keep the at-times disorganized chasers at bay, riding together onto the Fuji Speedway, where strength began to tell and Carapaz eased clear. A furious five kilometres of pedalling later, he was in dreamland.
"It was a bit of a crazy day, and a very hard race," he said. "I didn’t have a team like some of the others did – it was just Jonny and me, but we had confidence, we’ve both got quite a bit of experience and have raced a lot in Europe.
"The speed on the climb was very fast, and then there were lots of attacks. I had to be patient as the selections were being made and wait for the right moment – that for me was the most complicated part.
"McNulty was a good breakaway companion – I profited a lot from being on his wheel on the flat. The moment we saw we had 20 seconds, we knew the medals were in play and we went all-in. We had that small advantage of 20-30 seconds, and at one point it hit 40. When we reached the track, I simply carried on and he slowed down. I had my doubts because there were a lot of strong riders behind who could have come back, but in the end I had good legs, and those 30 seconds we carved out served me well. It was just full-gas in those final kilometres."
After listening to the Ecuadorian national anthem play out in the Fuji Speedway, Carapaz was able to look forward to reuniting with his family and heading back to Ecuador for a homecoming like no other.
"It is incredible to see your flag as the top one, and to have this medal," he said. "It’s sensational."
Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick joined Cyclingnews after a work experience stint in 2015 and hasn't left. Prior to that, he studied French and Spanish at university and went on to train as a journalist. Rides his bike to work but more comfortable on a football pitch.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.