Belgium came into the Tokyo Olympics as favourites for both the men's road race and individual time trial, especially after Wout van Aert's dominant performance in the final two stages of the Tour de France, where he won the time trial and final sprint.
However, those hopes melted in the shimmering heat and humidity of Tokyo in Wednesday's time trial, where Van Aert and teammate Remco Evenepoel were unable to add to the country's silver medal won by Van Aert in the road race.
Evenepoel, who recovered from a crash over a guardrail in the Giro d'Italia – one that mirrored his fall in Il Lombardia last year, and left him out of competition until May – set the fastest early time but was quickly eclipsed by the later starters and finished ninth.
Van Aert was second-fastest at the second split, 15.1km into the 44.2km event but then faded to sixth.
"Of course I had hoped for better, but I felt that I was not good enough to compete for the medals during the race already," Van Aert said after his race. "It's a fair result, but not the result I hoped for.
"After the first lap I was on medal pace, and then you know the second lap has to be a carbon copy, but I lost all my pace on the false flat and on the steep part I almost got a cramp. I did not need the intermediate times anymore to know that the medals were out of reach."
The men's time trial winner, Slovenia's Primož Roglič, left the Tour de France early after suffering a heavy crash on stage 3. His focus on the Tour and last weekend's Olympic road race may have sapped some of Van Aert's energy but, he said, "I would lie if I'd say I regretted anything I did over the past weeks. I won an Olympic medal on Saturday, and I rode a fantastic Tour de France. There are no regrets."
For his part, Evenepoel said he did his best. "I rode as fast as possible from start to finish," he said to Sporza. "It was really difficult. I think I made few mistakes, but there are just guys faster today."
Evenepoel said that he is still returning to his best after breaking his pelvis in the crash last August but the World Championships in Belgium may not be his main target.
"That will be difficult because the course is completely flat. I think Wout and Yves [Lampaert] have an advantage there.
"I will race nine chances out of ten at the European Championship. If we take gold there with Belgium, we can start with three at the World Championships. That would be nice in our own country."
Although the medal haul was not what he'd hoped, national coach Sven Vanthourenhout said he's still satisfied with the team's results.
"Of course the final balance is positive. I myself have always remained pragmatic," Vanthourenhout told Wielerflits, saying that every country comes to the Games with the aim of taking medals.
"Wout took silver in the road race, I saw a nice team in that road race and no one disappointed in the time trial either. We can finish our Games nicely."
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