It was Richard Carapaz who claimed the gold medal for Ecuador after an exciting final 40 kilometres of the men’s road race in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
A select group formed over the top of the viciously steep Mikuni Pass and then battled it out for the medals over the next 30 kilometres into the finish on Fuji International Motorway.
Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) and Brandon McNulty (USA) attacked clear with 25 kilometres left, and it would prove to be the winning move when Carapaz dropped his erstwhile companion with 6 kilometres left, then holding off a determined chase from the strong group behind and soloing in for the win with a series of joyous exclamations at the finish.
Wout van Aert (Belgium) capped off a stellar ride with a sprint to claim the silver medal, with Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) the bronze after a photo finish between the pair in the sprint to the line.
With the win the Ecuadorian claimed just his countries second gold medal in the history of the Olympics, the first of any colour in cycling as he surprised the more touted favourites coming into the race.
Hot and humid conditions greeted the riders on the startline with the threat of showers during the racing action materialising briefly at times out on course.
A breakaway of eight went away at the start of the 232 kilometres from the outskirts of Tokyo. Nic Dlamini (South Africa), Michael Kurkrle (Czech Republic), Juraj Sagan (Slovakia), Eduard-Michael Grosu (Romania), Polychronis Tzortzakis (Greece), Orluis Aular (Venezuela), Paul Daumont (Burkina Faso) and Elchin Asadov (Azerbaijan) were the riders present in the move and the lead got out to a maximum of 20 minutes with 160 kilometres left to race.
The peloton were happy to see them go and really didn’t chase much until the the climb of Doushi Road, with Belgium and Slovenia coming to the front and setting a decent tempo, which saw the gap to the breakaway steadily brought down.
The climb of Fuji Sanroku, 14.5 kilometres at 6%, saw the teams of Belgium with Greg van Avermaet and Slovenia with Jan Tratnik continue their strong pace on the climb, greatly reducing a 12 minute gap to the breakaway at the foot of the ascent.
Tratnik continued to set his relentless pace over the course of the climb, Italy tried to break things up near the summit, and they succeeded in dropping a number of riders including Alejandro Valverde (Spain) though there were no attacks that stuck over the top of the climb and Tratnik returned to the front for Slovenia.
As the race headed into the imposing climb of Mikuni pass, the attacks started to fly off the front of the peloton, with the Netherlands and Belgium particularly aggressive. Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) attacked with 53 kilometres to go, with Eddie Dunbar (Ireland) and Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) able to follow as the peloton chased hard with some of the pre-race favourites heading off the front of the race. They were recovered after a hard chase from the main bunch turned into a stiff pace set into the base of the climb to Mikuni Pass.
Kurkle, Tzortzakis and Aular were the last of the breakaway still ahead of the peloton and they were swept up by the attackers and then the peloton ahead of the torturous climb of Mikuni Pass.
Tiesj Benoot and Mauri Vansevenant went to the front on Mikuni Pass to drive a relentless tempo at the front, dropping a large portion of the peloton, including all the Australian riders out of contention for the race win.
Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) attacked off the hot tempo of the Belgium riders, launching clear with just over 37 kilometres left to ride. The Tour de France winner immediately got a gap, with Brandon McNulty (USA) and Michael Woods (Canada) able to bridge across and join him at the front of the race.
Wout van Aert (Belgium) set a very hard pace in trying to restrict the advantage of the escaped trio, before Michal Kwiatkowski (Poland), Alberto Bettiol (Italy), Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) and Rigoberto Uran (Colombia) attacked the triple stage-winner from the Tour de France, joining the front three riders.
That left van Aert to to do the chase all by himself, and he managed to haul his way over to the front riders with Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark), Simon Yates (Great Britain), David Gaudu (France), Bauke Mollema (Netherlands) and Max Schachmann (Germany) also making it over to create a big group as the race reached the top of the climb. Woods tried an attack over the summit, but it was just the precursor for a series of attacks from the group. No rider had any teammates to chase for a leader, and a number of riders clearly didn’t want to arrive alongside van Aert, fresh from his sprint win on the Champs Elysees.
Kagosaka Pass was the only climb remaining in the race, but it was anticipated by a surge from McNulty and Carapaz as they jumped out to an advantage of 40 seconds. Van Aert continued to apply the pressure in the chase, attacking off the front of the chasing group up a rise to try and bridge across. He had riders in his wheel but drove a relentless pace and took significant time out of the lead of the McNulty/Carapaz group, taking 25 seconds off their lead with his flurry of attacks over two kilometres.
Carapaz attacked with 6 kilometres left to ride, shedding McNulty on the approach to the Fuji International Speedway. The American was caught up as the attacks came from behind, with Woods launching a number of moves.
The Ecuadorian continued hard at the front of the race, and wasn’t conceding any time to the chasers, so much so that they focused on the fight for silver with a few kilometres left.
Carapaz soloed in for the win with a series of jubilant celebrations, while Van Aert lead out the sprint from the group, in the end just pipping Pogačar on the line for the silver medal with the Tour de France champion claiming bronze.