Richard Carapaz brought home the gold medal for Ecuador in the men’s Olympic road race in Tokyo on Saturday in a pulsating finale that saw the climber drop his main rivals on the last two climbs.
Carapaz’s prize was only Ecuador’s second gold medal in Olympic competition history. Cuencano speedwalker Jefferson Perez won gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and followed it up with a silver in 2008.
Carapaz made his first acceleration with 25km to go in response to a move from Brandon McNulty (USA) before dropping his breakaway companion and soloing to the win with 5.8km to go.
Carapaz held onto his winning lead over the final finishing circuit on the Fuji Speedway to take the biggest one-day win of his career. The 2019 Giro d’Italia winner and third-place finisher at this year’s Tour de France, closed the race with more than enough time to soak up the applause from the home crowd after six hours of brutal racing in hot and humid conditions.
In the sprint for the silver and bronze medals, Wout van Aert (Belgium) narrowly held off the late charge from Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar (Slovenia).
As expected, much of the race came down to a battle on the all-important Mikuni Pass. Pogacar was the first major player to break free but he was joined by an elite group of contenders before McNulty took off with 25km to go.
The USA leader was joined by Carapaz and the pair quickly established a healthy lead. By the time a group that contained Van Aert, Pogacar, and Adam Yates finally began to mount a serious chase, the gap to the two leaders was almost a minute but a serious turn of pace from the heavily marked Van Aert saw the gap drop to just 15 seconds.
With McNulty starting to fade in the closing stages, Carapaz knew that it was now or never and on a short rise he kicked clear with one decisive acceleration that distanced his American ally.
Back in the chase, and with McNulty swept up, the remaining riders were unable to find a cohesive rhythm, with attack after attack stifling their efforts. Those moments of hesitation were all that Carapaz needed to cement his place on the podium and a place in the history books with a gold medal for him and for Ecuador.
Credit: Cycling News