Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz produced a powerful late burst after six-hour slog to win gold in a thrilling Olympic men’s road race as favourite Tadej Pogacar was beaten into third place at the Fuji International Speedway on Saturday.
As expected, Slovenian Pogacar launched his assault for victory on the fearsome Mikuni Pass, a brutal climb around 35 km (22 miles) from the end of a 234km race ridden in hot and humid conditions.
But the Tour de France champion had not counted on the fire within a renowned mountain specialist who prepared himself for the season – and a race route described as one of the hardest in Olympic history with almost 5,000m of climbing – by training on the Cotopaxi Volcano in the Andes.
Carapaz, along with Belgium’s eventual silver medallist, Wout van Aert, hunted down Pogacar, and then with around 20km remaining the Ecuadorean seized his chance to take control.
Escaping with American Brandon McNulty on the short Kagosaka climb before a long descent back to the racing circuit finale, the duo put almost a minute on a flagging pack.
It looked like being a straight battle between Carapaz and McNulty as they stole almost two minutes on the chasers.
But the acceleration took its toll on McNulty and as the pack began to reel them in, reducing the gap to 14 seconds at one point, Carapaz decided his only chance for gold was to strike out alone for the finish with 5km remaining.
Nicknamed La Locomotora for his relentless climbing, the South American found another gear and began to extend his lead with every turn of the pedals in front of hundreds of cheering spectators lining the circuit.
With the gold assured he could even enjoy the final turns as the battle for silver raged behind him – crossing the line one minute and seven seconds clear.—AP