Tokyo 2020 - Men's road race 2021 as it happened: Richard Carapaz takes gold ahead of Wout van Aert
Thought you could take a break after the Tour de France? The men's road race rumbles into town on Saturday, just six days after Tadej Pogacar carried the yellow jersey into Paris. He unites with fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic in Japan, with the Team GB quartet of Geraint Thomas, Adam and Simon Yates, and Tao Geoghegan Hart among those out to stop them on an ominous route packed with climbs.
Richard Carapaz, Wout van Aert y Tadej Pogacar en el podio de Tokio 2020
A sprint between the remaining riders, started by Adam Yates, sees Tadej Pogacar and Wout van Aert - arguably the two strongest riders in the race - cross the line to claim the remaining medals. Carapaz won by seizing his moment(s), followed McNulty's move, and let the rest of them watch each other while he rode away to glory. He's absolutely right to pound his bars in satisfaction. Make no mistake, he earned that one. I'm told that makes him Ecuador's second ever Olympic medalist, second gold medalist, after Jefferson Perez who won the 20km walk in Atlanta in 1996. Insert your own "Carapaz walked it" joke here.
3km to go: One more lap
Carapaz leads the race onto the speedway circuit with a 30 second lead. Wout van Aert continues to shoulder the responsibility for the chase but he’s only human. Surely they're riding for silver at this point?
5km to go: McNulty flags, Carapaz has to go solo
The pair have ridden well together for some 15km but the unit has broken down as the American succumbs to fatigue. The Ecuadorian looks to be riding to gold but the riders behind are surging as well. Nailbiting finale!
7km to go: A select sprint finish in store?
We didn’t get a single one in three weeks at the Tour de France but it looks like we could have one in store today. The chasing group aren’t getting any information via radio but for the first time in a while they have a visual on the two leaders. The climbers are also not going to want to bring Wout to the line, which is why they're hesitating, and will only help the two ahead.
11km to go: Last chance saloon
The final ramp of any sort presents the last opportunity for the chasers and of course it’s Wout van Aert who seizes the reigns of the race, bringing the gap down to less than half a minute at a stroke. He looks for assistance from Gaudu and others but he’s not going to get it. If he wants to win, he’s going to have to do it the hard way. It's time for some game theory...
18km to go: Have the Gold and Silver medals been decided?
With the run in not all downhill, or even entirely flat, I think these two can still be brought back, whether by an individual or a coherent move of multiples, but the riders behind are surely running out of road. They're 36 seconds in front and they're are, says Brian Smith, a few too many riders "sandbagging."
22km to go: McNulty v Carapaz
Two from the Americas with a healthy lead of around 20 seconds. They’re just motoring, with the singular goal of extending their lead, while it’s rather more stop start from behind. Wout van Aert is having to follow everything and seems to be able to, but surely he can’t keep this up for the rest of the race.
25km to go: 13 in front
And they’re all serious contenders. The group is made up of Michael Woods (Canada), Wout van Aert (Belgium), David Gaudu (France), Alberto Bettiol (Italy), Bauke Mollema, Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia), Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland), Brandon Mcnulty (USA), Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), Rigoberto Uran (Colombia), Max Schachmann (Germany), Richard Carapaz (Ecudaor), Adam Yates (Great Britain).
There’s no cohesion is the group, it’s just attack after attack. No-one wants to miss the medal-winning move, so better to lead from the front. Thrilling stuff.
34km to go: Wout brings them back
Less than 3km to the top of the climb and those three have been brought back - mainly thanks to the efforts of Wout himself. He really is a phenomenon, isn’t he? He does appear to have paid for it, though, and the Belgian falls victim to a counter attack by riders who have been sheltering in his wheel. He’s still just about hanging on, though.
The race is down to barely a dozen riders, split into a couple of groups, and Primoz Roglic is not in either of them. Alberto Bettiol, Michal Kwiatkowski, Max Schachmann and Bauke Mollema are. Adam Yates isn't too far away but seems to be struggling.
37km to go: Pogacar attacks!
Kinda. As the gradients increase the Tour de France champion increases the pace meaningfully enough to put others in difficulty. Canada’s Mike Woods and Brandon McNulty of the USA follow. I’m not sure it’s meant to be a serious move and the aim, it seems, is to break Wout van Aert. They certainly know they can’t let him go to the line at the head of affairs.
38km to go: Out the back
Riders are being shelled all over the place and we’re starting to see which of them were wrecked by their Tour de France efforts and who have had their fitness fuelled by it. Colombia's Nairo Quintana is one who can’t hack the pace set by… Tiesj Benoot. Okay then.
40km to go: The invisible men
The increased pace has decimated the peloton, which means we start to see a few more of those riders who have been hiding in the wheels. Roglic is one who must be feeling good, as Tratnik has just brought him and Pogacar up to the front of affairs. The climb of the day is nigh.
45km to go: And that’s it for the break
As they enter the racing circuit for the second time the early attacks off the bunch, suitably snuffed by a combination of Italy, France, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan, have done for the escape.
The race goes through the pits and riders either pick claim a musette or step off. Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart are two who are done for the day.
51km to go; And… action
No sooner did I post the previous update, then my prophecy was fulfilled. The breakaway is falling apart on one of the long drags that lead up to the Mikuni Pass.
Behind them the Italians and the Dutch are making moves. Mauri Vansevenant covers the first one. Eddie Dunbar launches an attack of his own and finds himself in the company of Remco Evenepoel and Vincenzo Nibali.
54km to go:The bunch is leaving it late…
Not for the catch, especially, which is guaranteed in the next seven kilometres or so, but the peloton is surely far larger at this point than it should be. I know there’s been a fair amount of flat, not to mention a long descent for pooped riders to recover on, but if the climbers are going to want to beat the puncheurs to the… er, punch, then the attacks will need to start soon.
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61km to go: First time through the finishing straight
...With four and a half hours of racing completed, and still the hardest two to go. Coming up next:
Rather them than me.
Jan Tratnik is STILL at the front, and Matt Stephens has awarded him the Man of the Match prize. "I know we shouldn't call cycle racing a match," he says, "but I'm calling it a match." As you've actually ridden one of these, you can call it whatever you like, Matt.
70km to go: Nyeeeeeow
We’re approaching the Fuji International speedway circuit. You’re either a fan of bike races on motor racing circuits, or you’re not. The novelty wore off for me a while back and it’s never, in my experience, made for great racing. In this case, I’m happy to make an exception as it’s one of the few places where spectators have been allowed to watch the action live.
In the bunch, Bala is back, presumably having reinflated after going pop earlier, and surely having ridden the descent of his life. Tratnik is on the front again. How is this man still riding???
75km to go: Bums on seats
The peloton is cruising down this climb, as aerodynamically as the rules allow, and are hitting speeds of almost 90km/h in places. No potholes here, the roads look as smooth as you’d expect. A seriously stacked Tratnik is back at the front and has a few words with Denmark’s Kasper Asgreen before casually adjusting his sunglasses.
I’m seriously impressed by the way this break is riding. The gap is now down to around 4 minutes, but you might have expected it to be swallowed up completely by now.
90km to go: The top of the climb
The pace clearly wasn't high enough for the Italians, as Giuliu Ciccone takes over at the front from Jan Tratnik, which tells us he’s not the protected rider for his nation.
As the break crests the climb, the peloton is 3km from the top, now just 5.40 from the front of the race. Ciccone has already done some damage as the latest rider to go is Alejandro Valverde, not long after team-mate Omar Fraile. Known to have been targeting this race, that was definitely not the plan for Bala.
99km to go: The end of the gold helmet
The reigning Olympic champion, Greg van Avermaet, who has certainly ridden like it in the first half of the race, is the latest rider to slip out of the back of the bunch. Tiesj Benoot is now front and centre for the Belgians. With Remco and Wout hiding behind him, there's not much doubt about who their leaders are now. Jan Tratnik sets the tempo for Slovenia.
In other news:
101km to go: Who’s in the break?
We know their names, but what are their track (slash road) records?
Juraj Sagan is easily the most experienced of the five, having raced in the WorldTour for Bora and others for over a decade now. He definitely isn’t just Peter’s brother.
Orluis Aular of Venezuela is a promising young rider, currently employed by the Caja Rural team. The 24 year-old collected a couple of good results this season - second in stages of La Route d'Occitanie and the Ruta del Sol.
Michael Kukrle rides at Continental level for Elkov-Kasper and recently became the Czech national road race champion. He’s making his Olympic debut.
Tzortzakis is also appearing in his first Olympics. His best result this year is 3rd overall at the Tour of Estonia.
Team Qhubeka NextHash’s Nicolas Dlamini became the first black South African to ride the Tour de France last month. Unfortunately, Dlamini didn’t make it to Paris, finishing outside the time limit in Tignes on stage 9, but he fought valiantly until the very end and refused to simply step off.
They've now got a lead of 11 minutes.
108km to go: And we’re climbing
As mentioned previously, the long but not particularly steep middle ascent of the race isn’t likely to prove decisive in the scheme of things but we can still expect the break’s lead to fall by around half. It should take around fifty minutes for them to reach the top of Fuji Sanroku, which also happens to be the name of the signature blended whisky of the Kirin distillery, produced in the foothills.
110km to go: Phwoar
The cameraman in the helicopter puts in his application for a job on the next John Woo movie, pulling away to provide us with a magnificent wide shot of the landscape. The break, pushing along and working well together, isn’t stopping to enjoy the scenery. “We’re almost in the shadow of the mighty Mount Fuji” says Matt Stephens, to which a wry Brian Smith retorts with: “It could be Scotland.” Not too many volcanoes in Scotland, Bri.
114km to go: Kit watch
The peloton is just through the feedzone on the descent of the Kagosaka pass and the break is pushing on the approach to Mount Fuji, so there’s a bit of a lull in the action. It means we get an opportunity to appreciate the national team jerseys that we don’t see all that often.
Slovenia’s #FightForGreen is a snazzy little number that we’re rather getting used to, while Belgium’s blue rarely disappoints either. Guillaume Martin is playing catch-up after a mechanical, which means long shots of his blank and uninspiring French jersey, that’s certainly no match for their national champion’s kit. In fact, I’ll go as far to say white really shouldn’t be the dominant colour of a national cycling kit, so Spain are docked points as well. On the other hand, I can’t help but admire Ireland’s shamrock green, on the shoulders of Nico Roche, Eddie Dunbar and Dan Martin, and Canada’s, which is similar to, but different enough from the Belgian uniform.
126km to go: A quick recap
Geraint Thomas has been down. Now bloodied and battered, the Brit pushes on after his crash, which also involved Tao Geoghegan Hart, on Doshi Road. Plus ca change, eh?
The break at one point consisted of seven riders: Nicolas Dlamini (South Africa), Michael Kukrle (Czech Republic), Juraj Sagan (Slovakia), Eduard-Michael Grosu (Romania), Polychronis Tzortzakis (Greece), Orluis Aular Sanabria (Venezuela), Paul Daumont (Burkina Faso) and Elchin Asadov (Azerbaijan). It's now down to five, with Daumont and Grosu losing ground.
The peloton has mainly been pushed along by the Belgians and the Slovenians, with Greg van Avermaet and Jan Polanc both prominent at the front of the bunch.
The warmest of welcomes to those of you who have risen early - as I have - or stayed up this late - as I haven’t for a very long time - to catch what promises to be a fascinating final four hours (give or take) of bike racing.
The climbing proper is just about to begin. As you’d expect we’ve got a nice little break up the road, made up mainly of riders from countries less steeped in cycling lore but who absolutely deserve to be there as much as any of the others. I’m not sure how many of them will still be pushing pedals come the business end of affairs, but you never know. The Olympic road race has historically surprised us, with Greg van Avermaet a worthy but somewhat unlikely winner last time in Rio, Alexandre Vinokourov (about whom the less said the better) getting the jump on the British supersquad in 2012, and Paolo Bettini, the winner in Beijing four years before that.
Given the current pace, the winner - whoever that may be - is currently on track to break the tape at around 17.50
It’s certainly an interesting course, this one. With almost 5000m of ascent in total, it’s definitely one for the climbers. If you’re only tuning in for Mount Fuji, well, who can blame you, but given the climb only averages 6% across its 14km - maxing out at 10% - the decisive moment of the race might be more likely to come on the Mikuni Pass, some 60km down the road. The Mikuni Pass tops is significantly shorter, at just over 6km - not to mention less picturesque than Fuji - but with ramps of 20%, a major move by a lightweight might prove to be the winning one.
Does that rule out Wout van Aert? The bookies don’t seem to think so, though they have Tadej Pogacar, fresh from a successful Tour de France defence, as the firmest of favourites at around 4/1. And I do mean “fresh” quite literally, given the young Slovenian barely broke a sweat over three weeks. Still, he wasn’t known to be targeting the race, so
Next up is, indeed, the rider who triumphed on the Champs Elysees six days ago. Wout van Aert’s name frankly, has no right to be up there with the favourites, but obviously must be, given how breezily he soared up and over Mont Ventoux (twice) to victory.
A few of the other fancied riders were also pretty prominent at the Tour - the likes of David Gaudu, Michael Woods and Sergio Higuita - but there are also several who surely qualify for unknown quantity status. Has Primoz Roglic recovered from the injuries that forced his withdrawal? And where’s Remco at? The shine has rather come off the 21 year-old since his return from that horrific accident at last year’s Il Lombardia. He flattered to deceive on his Giro debut and hasn’t pinned a number on since the Belgian national championship, but he’s also Remco.
The Dutch revere the Olympics like few other nations, which is at least partly why I think the likes of Bauke Mollema are in with an excellent shout. I’m also at least a little bit interested in what a returning Tom Dumoulin has to offer. Team GB has a strong squad of four, but also a pretty poor record in the road race - especially considering how medallicious they are on the track. Can Tao, Adam, Simon or Geraint pull one out of the back on the Fuji circuit?
Either way, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, eh? We’ve got 130 Olympians rolling along the el scorchio roads outside Tokyo , all of whom are looking sparkling in their unfamiliar national uniforms.
I’ve woken up, I’m smelling the much-needed coffee, and I can’t wait to find out who’ll be awarded one of the very first golds of the Olympics that almost didn’t happen.
Starting in Musashinonomori Park to the west of Tokyo and ending 234km later at the Fuji International Speedway, the route features five classified climbs for a total of 4,865 metres of climbing.
After a flat opening 40km, the road starts to head uphill on the gentle but long ascent to Doushi Road via the Yamabushi tunnel (the actual climb is 5.9km at 5.7%). A short descent after the summit is followed by a 15km plateau which passes the picture-postcard Yamanakoko Lake before the first of two ascents of the punchy Kagosaka Pass. This is followed by the major test of the day, the climb to Fuji Sanroku (15km at 5.8%) and the highest point of the race at 1451m. This plays out on the so-called Mount Fuji Circuit section of the race.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the snow-capped volcanic “Fuji-san” peak, the 13km descent is followed by one and a half circuits of the undulating Fuji Speedway Loop prior to most difficult uphill test of the race: the Mikuni Pass. The first part of a double-header, the 5km climb has a brutish average gradient of 11.5% with a maximum tilt of 17% near the summit.
A second ascent of the Kagosaka Pass peaks with 21.5km remaining and is followed by a zippy descent ahead of the finish, which comes after a final lumpy 6.5km lap of the Speedway Circuit.
Given the run-in, it’s a route which will not only suit climbers but puncheurs who can get over the peaks and then power to the line. It’s certainly more selective than the Rio route which resulted in a gold medal for a fast finisher who could climb – rather than a climber who can finish fast.
The women’s race is almost 100km shorter and includes neither the two closing climbs nor the Fuji Sanroku climb. As such, the route is identical to the men’s until the Doushi Road and Kagosaka Pass are completed, after which the riders tackle a rolling 40km to the finish. Despite bypassing Mount Fuji, the 137km route features 2,692m of climbing.
Who’s going for gold?
It remains to be seen if those who come to the Olympics off the back of the Tour are at a disadvantage or not. You sense that some riders may be able to continue their peak (such as Tadej Pogacar) while others could be on the wane or recovering from a fall (such as Primoz Roglic). The Slovenian duo are both among the favourites – at least, on origami paper – but part of a four-man team that could fold in the face of six countries with a full quota of five riders.
Along with Pogacar – who was peerless in his pursuit of the yellow jersey in France – other riders hoping to take their Tour form to Tokyo include Belgium’s Wout van Aert, third-place Richard Carapaz of Ecuador, and the French climber David Gaudu, who put in a solid showing in the Pyrenees in the final week.
ANDORRE-LA-VIEILLE, ANDORRA - JULY 11: Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo-Visma & Michael Matthews of Australia and Team BikeExchange in breakaway during the 108th Tour de France 2021, Stage 15 a 191,3km stage from Céret to Andorre-la-Vieille / @LeTo
Image credit: Getty Images
Having proved himself over the mountains during the Tour – not least with the double ascent of Mont Ventoux – Van Aert is just the kind of rider who could win in Tokyo, provided he can negotiate those double-digit ramps of the Mikuni Pass. The Belgian champion has a strong five-man team that also includes defending champion Greg van Avermaet, youngster Remco Evenepoel, and the versatile duo of Tiesj Benoot and Mauri Vansevenant.
Colombia, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain also have five-man teams, with Gaudu, Bauke Mollema and Alejandro Valverde in possession with the right tools in their locker, plus looking in reasonably good nick. You do fear for the Colombians, however, with Señors Quintana, Uran, Higuita and Chaves all tailing off in the Tour. Perhaps Dani Martinez is their man?
The French don’t have Julian Alaphilippe – who will focus on the defence of his world title in Flanders – but Guillaume Martin could dovetail nicely with Gaudu. Italy are an unknown: Vincenzo Nibali looked a shadow of himself in the Tour, while Signori Caruso, Moscon, Bettiol and Ciccone have only really ridden the Settimana Ciclistica Italiana since the Giro.
Mollema will co-lead the Dutch with Wilco Kelderman, who finished fifth in France, plus Tom Dumoulin, who is still in that zone of unknown following a sabbatical. Dylan van Baarle is a strong domestique but Yoeri Havik has only nine race days in his legs all season.
Does old boy Valverde have one major win still inside him? This course would have suited him well in his pomp. It’s not too dissimilar from the Andorra stage in the Tour, where he came second, two placed ahead of Ion Izagirre, who is also part of the Spanish team alongside brother Gorka, Omar Fraile and Jesus Herrada.
Alejandro Valverde batte Romain Bardet e Michael Woods nella volata di Innsbruck ai Mondiali 2018
Image credit: Getty Images
British hopes reside with the Adam and Simon Yates, with Ineos Grenadiers duo Tao Geoghegan Hart and Geraint Thomas in support. Simon crashed out of the Tour while Adam hasn’t turned a competitive pedal since Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It’s hard seeing any of these four riders adding to Team GB’s goldrush. A medal of any colour would be a miracle.
Marc Hirschi or Gino Mader could be dark horses for Switzerland, ditto Max Schachmann for Germany, Michael Woods for Canada and Rafal Majka for Poland. Majka did a sterling job as trade teammate Pogacar’s last man in the mountains during the Tour, and could enter the race with strong legs and an able lieutenant in Michal Kwiatkowski (himself a good outside bet).
For Pogacar, it all depends how he’s feeling and where his motivation lies so soon after winning a second Tour. He’s also fiercely loyal and respectful of his compatriot Primoz Roglic, whom he commemorated by holding up his race number in the final ride into Paris last Sunday. Can Roglic do a Lazarus and be in competitive shape given the extend of his injuries in France? It’s unlikely. But the reason he left the Tour early was to focus on his recovery for Tokyo, so he shouldn’t be discounted out of hand.
Both part of three-man teams, Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov and Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko are good outsiders. Finally, there’s the riders from small two-man or one-man teams who could either form alliances with trade teammates or simply ride the coattails of their colleagues: New Zealand’s George Bennett, Portugal’s Joao Almeida, Costa Rica’s Andrey Amador and Ecuador’s Carapaz are all worth watching.
But that man Van Aert, fresh from winning three stages at the Tour across three different disciplines, and with the tyro Evenepoel in support – perhaps even as a foil – is a mouth-watering prospect. Belgium should be among the medals.
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