The Olympic road race cycling appeared as though it would be a glorious opening of the Olympic Games in Rio for Colombia, but finished in a disappointment
At 9:30 local time, 144 cyclists from 63 different countries set of from Copacabana for the gruelling 241.5 kilometre long Olympic road race over cobblestones, steep hills and difficult descents. The escarabajos’ line-up looked strong, featuring Jarlinson Pantano, Miguel Ángel López, Rigoberto Urán, Esteban Chaves and Sergio Henao.
Colombia’s intentions quickly became clear as Tour de France revelation Pantano joined the six-man strong breakaway group just after the first kilometre. The break wasn’t challenged by the peloton and they managed to build a lead that grew to almost eight minutes. However, the favourites from Great Britain, Spain and Italy found it too much and began the chase against the six men, making quick work of the difference.
For Pantano, the race ended 73 kilometres from the finish line when he lost touch with the leading group, but Sergio Henao immediately took over at the front of the race going into the new break and this time with a serious group. Henao looked very comfortable in the leading group, while at the back Rigoberto Urán and Miguel López dropped out of the peloton and abandoned the race.
In the peloton, a minute behind Henao’s leading group, Italy went on the attack with Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru, cutting off other favourites like Froome, Valverde and Mollema. Esteban Chaves was in the fourth group by now and saw his chances of a medal disappear but Henao had no problems following the Italians who tried to take the lead on their own.
The cyclist from Medellín crossed the final mountain in the lead together with Nibali and Poland’s Rafal Majka and the three lead into the final descent with just 17 kilometres until the finish on the Copacabana. With the knowledge that Henao was the best sprinter of the three, Colombia went crazy, with high hopes of a gold medal.
A horrible crash 11.7 kilometres before the finish line shattered those hopes. Too quickly to be captured by the camera, he and Nibali were suddenly down in the drainage at the side of the road to the horror of Pantano and López, who had found a big screen on the Copacabana to cheer for their countryman after having dropped out. Meanwhile Rafal Majka continued on a solo effort.
On the flat strip to the finish line, Jakob Fuglsang from Denmark and Belgium’s van Avermaet were on the chase and in the last kilometre they caught the exhausted Majka, before van Avermaet took the gold medal for Belgium with a superior sprint ahead of the other two.
A great race, albeit with a sad end for the escarabajos’. In the end, Esteban Chaves finished 21st, 3.34 minutes behind van Avermaet. Henao didn’t come off too badly, but he suffered a fissure in his iliac crest and is out of the time trial on Wednesday. Predictions are that he could be back on his bike in 15 days, so the World Championships are a possibility.
By Freek Huigen