Richard Carapaz conquers men’s road race after Geraint Thomas crashes out

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<span>Photograph: REX/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Richard Carapaz won Ecuador’s first cycling gold medal after a breathtaking solo effort during the climax to the men’s road race, while Geraint Thomas’s quest for another Olympic title came to a premature end after another crash.

While Carapaz, the 2019 Giro d’Italia winner, celebrated after dropping the American Brandon McNulty with six kilometres of the race left, the medal hopes of Britain’s Thomas vanished when he struggled to recover from a crash after 70km that also involved his teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart.

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It was a cruel end to the race for Thomas, who landed hard on the same right side he injured in two spills during the Tour de France, denying him the chance to banish memories of the accident that ended his medal challenge in Rio five years ago.

Carapaz, who finished third at the Tour last week, was part of the same Ineos Grenadiers team as Thomas and Geoghegan Hart.

“It is an incredible moment that words can’t describe,” he said after securing gold, Ecuador’s second in the Olympics, Jefferson Pérez was victorious in the 20km walk in 1996.

“To my country, the truth is you have to believe. I have worked so hard to get here. It’s something so big for me. And simply thank you for the support, which really helped me get here.”

The tightly bunched chasing group of seven riders arrived 67 seconds behind Carapaz, with the Belgian Wout van Aert outsprinting Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar, who was clearly affected after winning his second Tour de France in a row, to claim silver.

Geraint Thomas initially continued after a heavy crash but abandoned the race with almost 60km remaining.
Geraint Thomas initially continued after a heavy crash but abandoned the race with almost 60km remaining. Photograph: Tim de Waele/Reuters

Thomas’s race was effectively over after Geoghegan Hart’s wheel caught in a groove on the road, sending the pair crashing to the ground. Although they rejoined the peloton, Thomas abandoned the race with almost 60km to go, his thoughts turning to Wednesday’s time trial.

Despite the frustration of his challenge being denied by another freak accident, Thomas reviewed the day with an admirable sense of perspective and there was no intimation Geoghegan Hart had been at fault.

“I’m feeling beat up, but not too bad,” the Welshman said. “I’ve felt worse. I landed on my right side again, which wasn’t ideal, and the muscles and everything were in spasm almost.”

2016 Olympics

Thomas looked set for a medal in Rio, but he fell during a treacherous descent near the close of the race, eventually remounting and finishing 12th. Favourites Vincenzo Nibali and Sergio Henao also crashed out near the end, giving Greg Van Avermaet the chance for gold.

2017 Tour de France

Lying second overall at the time and playing the role of first lieutenant to Chris Froome in the Team Sky (now Ineos Grenadiers) hierarchy, Thomas broke his collarbone after a crash on a slippery descent in a chaotic ninth stage. The events may have caused Thomas to withdraw, but Froome’s main rival Richie Porte also exited that day in a separate incident, and Froome went on to win his fourth title.

2017 Giro D’Italia

Thomas lost over five minutes to Nairo Quintana after he got caught up in a crash when Dutch rider Wilco Kelderman clipped a police motorbike and fell up ahead of him on the approach to Monte Blockhaus.

2020 Giro D’Italia

Thomas had been a favourite for the race ands taken an early lead after the time trial stage, but crashed on the Mt Etna stage after his front wheel hit a rider’s bottle on the ground. He continued, but the pain was such that he was dropped during the subsequent climb and lost too much time for his challenge to recover. Scans later revealed a fractured pelvis.

2021 Tour de Romandie

A crash in the sleet inside the final 50 metres of the summit finish in Thyon cost Thomas the yellow jersey on the penultimate stage.

2021 Tour de Suisse

Thomas’s Tour de France participation was put in doubt this year when he crashed heavily on the fourth stage of the Tour de Suisse a month before the Grand Départ, causing him to retire from the preparatory event.

2021 Tour de France

Although it wasn’t enough to end his race there and then, Thomas dislocated his shoulder on a dramatic stage three in this year’s Tour, the start of a miserable three weeks out of GC contention.

By Martin Belam

“It’s a normal sort of crash thing. It’s just disappointing, such a freak thing. Tao slipped on a bit of a metal, a metal ridge along the middle of the road. I was on his wheel with nowhere to go and just went straight down myself.

“It’s disappointing after all the hard work and sacrifice this year, especially after the Tour with all that happened there. I live to fight another day and just try and rest up, recover and try to give Wednesday another big go.”

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The biggest one-day win of Carapaz’s career looked unlikely when Pogacar attempted to leave the rest of the leading group in his wake during the climb up the unforgiving gradients of the Mikuni Pass with 30km of the 234km race to go.

It briefly looked as if the gamble would pay off, only for Carapaz and McNulty to break clear and build a lead of more than 40 seconds inside the last 20km.

The gap between the Ecuadorian and the chasing group gave him a more emphatic victory than had seemed possible just before the riders reached Fuji International Speedway circuit for the last time, after 4,865 metres of climbing in the unrelenting heat and humidity that has quickly become a talking point here.

Richard Carapaz crosses the finish line at the Mount Fuji Speedway.
Richard Carapaz crosses the finish line at the Mount Fuji Speedway. Photograph: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

“This race has been a war of attrition,” said British Cycling’s performance director, Stephen Park. “It’s been very hot, very humid, and will take riders a reasonable period of time to recover.

“It’s about trying to minimise the damage and give ourselves the best chance of rest, which was definitely the best option.”

It was a reasonable analysis of a day of disappointment for the British men, with Adam Yates finishing ninth and his twin, Simon, in 17th place.

Hopes for a British road race medal now rest with Lizzie Deignan, who will come up against her perennial Dutch rivals Annemiek van Vleuten and Marianne Vos in the women’s event on Sunday.

Bradley Wiggins described Carapaz’s victory as a “phenomenal” achievement in a group “packed full of superstars” and on a blistering day that tested even the most accomplished climbers.

“It was man against man,” said Wiggins, who is in Japan as a pundit for Eurosport. “The field was absolutely decimated. It just shows you how severe it was. I’m looking down, there’s guys on the floor, it’s been a severe road course.”

Carapaz slapped his handlebars in celebration as he crossed the line to an unusual sight here – crowds of delighted fans. While spectators have been kept away from events in Tokyo and other areas, the ban does not extend to Shizuoka prefecture, which hosted the race.

As many as 11,000 were there to greet him at the finish, some having braved the heat for the best part of a day before the riders appeared, although heavy cloud meant they were denied a view of nearby Mount Fuji.

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