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RIO OLYMPICS

Van Avermaet caps heady summer with gold

Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet took his dream summer to a new high by winning Olympic road race gold in Rio on Saturday.

Van Avermaet caps heady summer with gold
BRYN LENNON AFP

Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet took his dream summer to a new high by winning Olympic road race gold in Rio on Saturday.

Having won a stage of the Tour de France last month and held the yellow jersey for three days, the 31-year-old added Games glory to his achievements.

Van Avermaet and Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark caught runaway leader Rafal Majka of Poland with just 1.5km to the finish line at Copacabana beach, where security forces had earlier blown up a suspicious bag. Majka had found himself out in front on his own 12km from the end after breakaway companions Vincenzo Nibali and Sergio Henao crashed on a fast descent.

Majka drove on towards the finish with a 20-second lead over a group of chasers. The chase was disorganised until Van Avermaet and Fuglsang broke clear. When they caught Majka, the Pole knew the game was up and he did not even contest the sprint finish.

Nibali and Henao animated proceedings on the final climb. They went over the top 15km from the finish with a 15km lead. Majka was struggling to keep up with the other two on the descent but when Italy's Nibali and Colombian Henao crashed, the Pole skilfully weaved through the debris and looked set for victory.

That he didn't get it was credit to the strength and determination of Van Avermaet in particular. The one-day cobbled classics specialist was not expected to be able to keep up with smaller, lighter climbers on the final ascent, but he did and went on to take a deserved title.

A six man breakaway got clear around 20km into the race with several big-hitters amongst them. Former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski of Poland was joined by Colombia's Jarlinson Pantano, a stage winner at last month's Tour de France, Switzerland's Michael Albasini and Simon Geschke of Germany -- two riders who have also won Tour stages in the past. Their gap plateaued at more than seven minutes but with 90km left it was only just over 2 minuntes. 70km from the finish a counter-attack was launched featuring Britain's Geraint Thomas, Damiano Caruso of Italy and Van Avermaet.

Pantano, Abasini and Geschke dropped out of the front group leaving only Kwiatkowski and Russian champion Pavel Kochetkov, while Henao and Estonia's Rein Taramae bridged up to the three chasers. With 47km left Kwiatkowski dropped Kochetkov, but the Pol was soon reeled in himself.

With 200km ridden, Italian pair Nibali and Fabio Aru launched a joint attack on the penultimate descent and several riders caught the front five, leaving a roup of 10 up top. On the final ascent Nibali put in a burst with only Majka and Henao able to stick with him. But Nibali and Henao crashed, along with Thomas in the chase group. That left Majka riding alone to he line, but he came up agonisingly short as Van Avermaet claimed his greatest victory.