Oh Rio, Rio – the incredible street race of the Olympic men

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Olympics – Yolo BedTime

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Calling the men’s road race in Rio the best ever race might be an exaggeration, but it was damn good. Yeah, I see you in the back to cite an obscure stage of Volta a Catalunya or something – okay, let’s just say the Olympics were the best race of the season.

The four-year waiting period was worth it for cycling fans, because the varied, unpredictable route offered undreamt-of racing action.

Right off the bat, the Copacabana route is ascribed a crazy mix of terrain. Long coastal road with a little wind? Yes, there went the big early break of the day. Cobblestone stretches throwing bottles, sprawling chains? The Czech team seemed to like it when they lined up on the last Grumari track. But most of all, the race was determined by that wild strip of pavement that led up (and perhaps more importantly, down) Vista China.

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On this agonizing course, the fans saw the reappearance of Poland’s flower Michal Kwiatkowski. I’ve already praised the 26 year old but it was a pleasure to watch him regardless of his 62nd place. He made the early break and then took the trouble to stay with the fresh legs of the front group until the final climb on Canoas and Vista Chinesa. That in itself is astonishing, but better still, Kwiatkowski managed, in the name of teamwork, to field Rafal Majka (successfully) for the final. That is pure class.

Plus there were plenty of other examples of flamboyant team tactics that we don’t see often when the boys compete for national teams (ahem, Mr. Valverde). Team GB had Stephen Cummings, who sacrificed himself as the locomotive for the peloton. Then Geraint Thomas sent it out onto the street with Chris Froome in reserve. There was no medal, but they played their cards skillfully. The Italians drew a similar maneuver with Damiano Caruso, which Vincenzo Nibali staged perfectly.

But oh Nibali! It was heartbreaking to see him fall and break a collarbone as he likely played the winning move. The “what if” is meaningless, but I bet he would have worked with Sergio Henao and Majka as neither of them are clearly superior sprinters. That crash – and others before it, like Richie Porte’s – was unfortunate, but as a fan you have to love that unpredictability. What other Olympic sport could this type of drama offer? It would be like Usain Bolt stumbling head over heels from the 100-meter blocks or Michael Phelps inexplicably resorting to doggy paddle on the home stretch of the 200-meter butterfly. What a wild shift in dynamics that was.

That brings us to this open finale on the coastal road. These unbelievable 10 kilometers of racing were tough. There was Majka, the solo leader, who prayed that he would get enough respite for the time trial to glory. They had the straggler Julian Alaphilippe, who miraculously chased into the top group. Louis Meintjes and Fabio Aru were the young wildcards; was there anything else in the tank? On the other side of the age and career spectrum, veteran Joaquim Rodriguez was at his last Olympics.

And Greg Van Avermaet was the ace in the hole – you don’t want to put him on the line. But they did. The Belgian hardman sprinted to gold on a day when everyone was for the climbers.

Say what you want about the dubious red tape running the Olympics with huge profits, and yes, we agree that a Tour Yellow has more seals of approval than a gold medal, but if Saturday isn’t a tinkering endorsement for the place of cycling at the games would be, I don’t know what is.

Let’s just hope that the women’s race on Sunday will be just as exciting.

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