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.
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.
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.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium)||6:10:05|
|2||Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark)|
|3||Rafal Majka (Poland)||0:00:05|
|4||Julian Alaphilippe (France)||0:00:22|
|5||Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spain)|
|6||Fabio Aru (Italy)|
|7||Louis Meintjes (South Africa)|
|8||Andrey Zeits (Kazakhstan)||0:00:25|
|9||Tanel Kangert (Estonia)||0:01:47|
|10||Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Portugal)||0:02:29|
|11||Geraint Thomas (Great Britain)|
|12||Christopher Froome (Great Britain)||0:02:58|
|13||Daniel Martin (Ireland)|
|14||Emanuel Buchmann (Germany)|
|15||Adam Yates (Great Britain)||0:03:03|
|16||Brent Bookwalter (United States Of America)||0:03:31|
|17||Bauke Mollema (Netherlands)|
|18||Kristijan Durasek (Croatia)|
|19||Sébastien Reichenbach (Switzerland)|
|20||Frank Schleck (Luxembourg)|
|21||Jhoan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Colombia)||0:03:34|
|22||Serge Pauwels (Belgium)||0:06:12|
|23||Alexis Vuillermoz (France)|
|24||Romain Bardet (France)|
|25||Simon Clarke (Australia)|
|26||Primož Roglic (Slovenia)||0:09:38|
|27||Yukiya Arashiro (Japan)|
|28||Daryl Impey (South Africa)|
|29||Nicolas Roche (Ireland)|
|30||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spain)|
|31||Sergei Chernetski (Russian Federation)|
|32||Christopher Juul Jensen (Denmark)|
|33||George Bennett (New Zealand)||0:11:49|
|34||Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland)|
|35||Ramunas Navardauskas (Lithuania)||0:12:18|
|36||Andre Fernando S. Martins Cardoso (Portugal)|
|37||Eduardo Sepulveda (Argentina)|
|38||Pavel Kochetkov (Russian Federation)|
|39||Steven Kruijswijk (Netherlands)|
|40||Damiano Caruso (Italy)|
|41||Andriy Grivko (Ukraine)||0:13:18|
|42||Philippe Gilbert (Belgium)|
|43||Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eritrea)||0:19:20|
|44||Georg Preidler (Austria)||0:19:37|
|45||Patrik Tybor (Slovakia)||0:20:00|
|46||Aleksejs Saramotins (Latvia)|
|47||Anasse Ait El Abdia (Morocco)|
|48||Lars Petter Nordhaug (Norway)|
|49||Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus)|
|50||Vegard Stake Laengen (Norway)|
|51||Ioannis Tamouridis (Greece)|
|52||Jan Polanc (Slovenia)|
|53||José Joao Pimenta Costa Mendes (Portugal)|
|54||Andrey Amador Bikkazakova (Costa Rica)|
|55||Michael Woods (Canada)|
|56||Michal Golas (Poland)|
|57||Simon Spilak (Slovenia)|
|58||Petr Vakoc (Czech Republic)|
|59||Toms Skujins (Latvia)|
|60||Chris Anker Sörensen (Denmark)|
|61||Bakhtiyar Kozhatayev (Kazakhstan)|
|62||Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland)|
|63||Alessandro De Marchi (Italy)||0:20:05|
|OTL||Murilo Antonio Fischer (Brazil)||0:31:47|
|OTL||Ignatas Konovalovas (Lithuania)|
|DNF||Jonathan Castroviejo Nicolas (Spain)|
|DNF||Imanol Erviti (Spain)|
|DNF||Jon Izaguirre Insausti (Spain)|
|DNF||Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Colombia)|
|DNF||Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Colombia)|
|DNF||Jarlinson Pantano Gomez (Colombia)|
|DNF||Rigoberto Uran Uran (Colombia)|
|DNF||Warren Barguil (France)|
|DNF||Stephen Cummings (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Ian Stannard (Great Britain)|
|DNF||Rohan Dennis (Australia)|
|DNF||Scott Bowden (Australia)|
|DNF||Richie Porte (Australia)|
|DNF||Laurens De Plus (Belgium)|
|DNF||Tim Wellens (Belgium)|
|DNF||Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Wout Poels (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Vincenzo Nibali (Italy)|
|DNF||Diego Rosa (Italy)|
|DNF||Michael Albasini (Switzerland)|
|DNF||Steve Morabito (Switzerland)|
|DNF||Simon Geschke (Germany)|
|DNF||Maximilian Levy (Germany)|
|DNF||Tony Martin (Germany)|
|DNF||Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway)|
|DNF||Sven Erik Bystrøm (Norway)|
|DNF||Maciej Bodnar (Poland)|
|DNF||Jan Barta (Czech Republic)|
|DNF||Leopold Konig (Czech Republic)|
|DNF||Zdenek Stybar (Czech Republic)|
|DNF||Denys Kostyuk (Ukraine)|
|DNF||Andriy Khripta (Ukraine)|
|DNF||Matej Mohoric (Slovenia)|
|DNF||Ghader Mizbani Iranagh (Islamic Republic of Iran)|
|DNF||Arvin Moazami Godarzi (Islamic Republic of Iran)|
|DNF||Mirsamad Pourseyedigolakhour (Islamic Republic of Iran)|
|DNF||Nelson Filipe Santos Simoes Oliveira (Portugal)|
|DNF||Abderrahmane Mansouri (Algeria)|
|DNF||Youcef Reguigui (Algeria)|
|DNF||Stefan Denifl (Austria)|
|DNF||Soufiane Haddi (Morocco)|
|DNF||Mouhssine Lahsaini (Morocco)|
|DNF||Taylor Phinney (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Rein Taaramae (Estonia)|
|DNF||Zac Williams (New Zealand)|
|DNF||Antoine Duchesne (Canada)|
|DNF||Hugo Houle (Canada)|
|DNF||Vasil Kiryienka (Belarus)|
|DNF||Kohei Uchima (Japan)|
|DNF||Okcheol Kim (Korea)|
|DNF||Joonyong Seo (Korea)|
|DNF||Jonathan Monsalve (Venezuela)|
|DNF||Miguel Ubeto Aponte (Venezuela)|
|DNF||Matija Kvasina (Croatia)|
|DNF||Daniel Diaz (Argentina)|
|DNF||Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Argentina)|
|DNF||King Lok Cheung (Hong Kong, China)|
|DNF||Jose Luis Rodriguez (Chile)|
|DNF||Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwanda)|
|DNF||Maxim Averin (Azerbaijan)|
|DNF||Serghei Tvetcov (Romania)|
|DNF||Luis Enrique Davila (Mexico)|
|DNF||Onur Balkan (Turkey)|
|DNF||Ahmet Orken (Turkey)|
|DNF||Kleber Da Silva Ramos (Brazil)|
|DNF||Ali Nouisri (Tunisia)|
|DNF||Stefan Hristov (Bulgaria)|
|DNF||Manuel Rodas Ochoa (Guatemala)|
|DNF||Bayron Guama De La Cruz (Ecuador)|
|DNF||Ivan Stevic (Serbia)|
|DNF||Tsgabu Gebremaryam Grmay (Ethiopia)|
|DNF||Diego Milan Jimenez (Dominican Republic)|
|DNF||Dan Craven (Namibia)|
|DNF||Oscar Soliz (Bolivia)|
|DNF||Qendrim Guri KOS|
|DNF||Brian Babilonia (Puerto Rico)|
|DNF||Yousef Mirza Banihammad (United Arab Emirates)|
|DNF||Ariya Phounsavath (Lao People's Democratic Republic)|
|DNF||Alexey Kurbatov (Russian Federation)|
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