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29th Olympic Games - JO
Beijing, China, August 9-23, 2008
August 9: Men's Road Race, 245km
Sánchez takes gold in Spanish master-class
Rebellin takes silver – flying Cancellara gets bronze
By Ben Atkins with additional reporting from Rob Jones in Beijing
Samuel Sánchez of Spain has won the gold medal in the men's road race after a masterclass in team riding from the Spanish squad. He proved to be the strongest of a six man group who broke away from the main group of favourites inside the last of seven laps of the hilly finishing circuit.
Italy's Davide Rebellin – celebrating his 37th birthday – took the silver medal not far behind Sánchez, and the bronze was taken by Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, who had only chased up to the leaders inside the final few kilometres.
Just missing out on the medals was Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) who had led out the sprint, ahead of Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) who had been the catalyst for the breakaway. Just behind them was three-time World time trial champion Michael Rogers (Australia), and the main group was led home just 12 seconds later.
"My team was great," said an ecstatic Sánchez, "I think I maybe had a little bit of a surprise because the rest of the riders weren't thinking that I was the strongest rider on the Spanish team. The entire Spanish team rode extremely strongly today."
"It's been a really good year for Spain," he continued, "we've won [Euro 2008] football, Nadal has won Wimbledon, Sastre won the Tour, so yes it's been a great year for Spanish sport.
"Spain is in a golden age for sport; I think sport in Spain is at the top right now."
"It's like a dream," said Sánchez. "I can't believe I just won the gold medal; it's something out of this world. The heat and humidity were extreme today, there were only five of us on the team but we were all at the front."
Having a team so filled with potential winners – including the overwhelming favourite and the winners of the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia – meant that Spain was strong in all departments. In that company, Sánchez was not expected to come out with a result so much as support one for his team-mates. "The pressure was on Valverde and Sastre," he explained, "so that gave me the opportunity. I saved my legs for the final lap and when I won it was a victory for all of us."
"Today is my birthday so it's a special moment," said second placed Davide Rebellin. "It's great to be on the Olympic podium; I would have like to have won of course, and I've had a lot of second places, but this is a special second place. Samuel Sánchez was the strongest today, I think the strongest were Sánchez and Andy Schleck, when they attacked it wasn't easy to go with them."
The Italian was slightly disappointed to have missed out on the gold medal, but recognised that he was beaten by a more powerful finisher. "Kolobnev started long," he explained. "Sánchez passed me in the last metres and he was going so much stronger."
With his experience and success in the Ardennes classics of Amstel Gold, Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Italian would have been a strong favourite for victory on the uphill finishing straight. He denied that he had done anything wrong in the charge for the line though. "I did my sprint," he said, "but I did not make a mistake. I did it right, but Sánchez was stronger.
"I suffered a lot in the heat," said the Italian of the stifling conditions in China, "nothing like I imagined."
Despite being pleased with his silver medal, Rebellin was philosophical about what might have been had Cancellara, Kolobnev and Rogers not caught the leading trio of himself, Sánchez and Schleck. "This is a great award," he said, "gold would have been better, but it remains a good sensation. If we were in three it would have been easier to control."
"I did the right race," said bronze medalist Fabian Cancellara, "everything I did was right, all I could do was follow since I had no team-mates." The world time trial champion was the sole rider from Switzerland due to the last-minute crash suffered by Michael Albasini. "When you're alone without any team-mates you just have to follow," he explained. "Bronze is more than I expected, I did a very good race."
As the race entered its closing stages, Cancellara was back in the group containing Bettini and Valverde and it was obvious that the winner would come from one of the five riders up the road. The Swiss powerhouse managed to catch the leaders with one of his trademark solo efforts.
"I saw I had to do something otherwise I would not get up there," he explained, "I knew that I had team-mates from CSC – Andy Schleck and Alexandr Kolobnev – but you don't ride with your team-mates at the Olympics. I had to do it alone, which shows that I was very good today. I have now achieved my main aim of winning a medal, so there's less pressure for me now."
Nevertheless, with the form he showed in catching the breakaway and still being fresh enough to contest the sprint, the Swiss rider will go into Wednesday's time trial as one of the outstanding favourites.
"It was a good performance," said Michael Rogers of his sixth place, "I just cramped in my hamstring in the last 200m, so what can you do when that happens?
"I'm disappointed," he said of his inability to get a medal, "but just happy to be there at the end. I guess with the humidity so high you have to keep drinking and I felt that I had to force the fluids down so maybe I didn't drink enough."
As three-time World time trial champion, today's performance from Rogers indicates that he should be one rider in with a chance of taking a medal on Wednesday. "I think after today conditions on the course are perfect for me," he confirmed, "so if luck is on my side who knows, it could be my day."
Defending champion Paolo Bettini (Italy) was pleased with the way the race had gone for the Italian team. Despite the loss of his own title, Italy managed to place a man in the winning move and claimed the silver medal. "All in all, we raced well," said the two-time World champion. "We had a minute hesitation when the escape went."
"I am truly content for Davide and his silver – he deserved this chance – he really worked hard for me in Stuttgart," continued a magnanimous Bettini. "I would have been better to win, but overall, it was a great day."
Bettini himself lost contact with the main group on the final climb, and by the time he rejoined the winning move had long since formed up the road. With his team-mate in that group he was powerless to ride the race for himself and he crossed the line alone, waving to the crowds. "I am not very content for my race," he said, "but I am happy for Davide. He did a great job controlling Sánchez. When I was back in the chase group Davide was already up the road and the finale went like that."
Going into the race as outstanding favourite; Alejandro Valverde finished back in 13th place in the group with Bettini. Nevertheless, the Green Bullet was proud of his team-mate's performance and the part he played in it. "The Spanish team was the strongest one and we showed it!" he said proudly. "Samuel Sánchez's victory is on of great satisfaction for the entire team. He was able to dominate a difficult situation at the end.
"Personally I felt good and had no problem with the hot weather," continued the Spanish champion, "but considering the fact that I was – together with Paolo Bettini – one of the biggest favourites everybody looked at us and there was little we could do. Samuel was able to take advantage of the situation and to give Spain its first medal in these Olympic games."
How it unfolded
Despite fears over the smog possibly forcing a later start or postponement to a later date, all 143 riders set off on time from Beijing's famous Tiananmen Square. The smog was still in evidence and with temperatures well into the 30s-centigrade and humidity in the 90s percent.
After just two kilometres, two riders went clear and began to build a lead over the apathetic peloton. Horacio Gallardo (Bolivia) and Patricio Almonacid (Chile) quickly opened up a gap of seven and a half minutes after only 30 kilometres. After another 15 kilometres, the leading pair had almost doubled its lead as the peloton behind them refused to react.
After a series of unsuccessful attacks, an acceleration from Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia) and Jens Voigt (Germany) pulled a group of 26 riders clear.
The breakaway group consisted of: Marzio Bruseghin (Italy), Carlos Sastre (Spain), Bert Grabsch (Germany), Jens Voigt (Germany), Andriy Grivko (Ukraine), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Belarus), Rémi Pauriol (France), Gatis Smukulis (Latvia), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Belgium), Jonathan Bellis (Great Britain), Ryder Hesjedal (Canada), Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic), Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg), Murilo Fischer (Brazil), Simon Gerrans (Australia), Matija Kvasina (Croatia), Radoslav Rogina (Croatia), Jan Valach (Slovakia), Petr Bencik (Czech Republic), Borut Bozic (Slovenia), Tadej Valjavec (Slovenia), Andrey Mizourov (Kazakhstan), Ruslan Podgornyy (Ukraine), Stef Clement (Netherlands) and Dainius Kairelis (Lithuania).
The presence of Sastre and Bruseghin in the group meant that the two strong teams of Spain and Italy were able to sit in while Russia and the United States rode tempo to prevent the gap from becoming too great.
Soon after crossing the finish line for the first time Gallardo lost contact with his companion and Almonacid continued alone.
The chase group crossed the line for the first time 10'20" behind, with a gap of 1'20" over the peloton.
As the race completed the first few laps of the hilly finishing circuit, the Sastre group caught and dropped the two leaders. The group also dropped Bellis – the youngest rider in the race. He abandoned soon afterwards.
With four laps to go, Podgornyy and Kuschynski attacked the group and pulled clear as the rest of their companions failed to react. Behind the break, the peloton was picking up with Italian Vincenzo Nibali leading the charge. The group was reeled in with just under 70 kilometres to go leaving just the duo up front.
Accelerations at the front of the peloton caused a steady stream of riders to be dropped off the rear. The highest profile of these was Stefan Schumacher (Germany) who abandoned soon after.
A series of unsuccessful attacks followed until Thomas Lövkvist (Sweden), Rigoberto Uran (Colombia) and Johan Van Summeren (Belgium) managed to make contact with the leading duo to make five up front.
Sastre put in some incredible turns on the front of the peloton for Team Spain and before too long, it pulled the five back. There then followed more attacks until a solo attack from Christian Pfannberger (Austria) saw him cross the line and take the bell alone. However, the leaders pulled him in soon after. Cadel Evans (Australia) attacked with19 kilometres to go and pulled a group of around 15 with him.
Constant aggression from Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) took Davide Rebellin (Italy), Samuel Sánchez (Spain), Michael Rogers (Australia) and Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) with him and the five riders broke clear.
On the final time up the lap's main climb another attack from Schleck distanced Kolobnev and Rogers and the remaining trio looked to have the podium sewn up between them.
Inside the last few kilometres, Kolobnev and Rogers continued to chase, refusing to give up and were – second by second – drawing the leaders back. Suddenly they were joined by Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) who had attacked out of the following group and with his efforts the three became six up front.
As the sextet rounded the final bend to take the uphill finish Kolobnev – arguably, the fastest finisher amongst them – led out, but it was clear that his chasing efforts had taken too much out of him. Rebellin and an even faster Sánchez overtook him with around 150 metres to go.
Sánchez took the sprint – and the gold medal – from Rebellin and Cancellara, with Kolobnev in fourth and Schleck rewarded for all his aggression with just fifth. Rogers completed the group and Santiago Botero (Colombia) led the main group home some 12 seconds later.
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Jean-François Quénet
Images by AFP Photo
Images by Casey Gibson/www.cbgphoto.com
Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com
Images by Roberto Bettini/www.bettiniphoto.net
1 Samuel Sánchez (Spain) 6.23.49 (38.362 km/h) 2 Davide Rebellin (Italy) 3 Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) 4 Alexandr Kolobnev (Russian Federation) 5 Andy Schleck (Luxembourg) 6 Michael Rogers (Australia) 7 Santiago Botero (Colombia) 0.12 8 Mario Aerts (Belgium) 9 Michael Barry (Canada) 0.16 10 Robert Gesink (Netherlands) 0.18 11 Levi Leipheimer (United States Of America) 0.20 12 Chris Anker Sorensen (Denmark) 0.22 13 Alejandro Valverde (Spain) 14 Jérôme Pineau (France) 15 Cadel Evans (Australia) 16 Przemyslaw Niemec (Poland) 17 Christian Vande Velde (United States Of America) 0.30 18 Paolo Bettini (Italy) 0.35 19 Vladimir Karpets (Russian Federation) 1.10 20 Murilo Fischer (Brazil) 2.28 21 Fabian Wegmann (Germany) 22 Erik Hoffmann (Namibia) 23 Christian Pfannberger (Austria) 24 Gustav Erik Larsson (Sweden) 25 Nicki Sřrensen (Denmark) 26 Radoslav Rogina (Croatia) 27 John-Lee Augustyn (South Africa) 28 Nuno Ribeiro (Portugal) 29 Ignas Konovalovas (Lithuania) 30 Jackson Jesus Rodriguez Ortiz (Venezuela) 31 Matthew Lloyd (Australia) 32 Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Norway) 33 Kanstantsin Siutsou (Belarus) 34 Rémi Pauriol (France) 35 Tadej Valjavec (Slovenia) 36 Yaroslav Popovych (Ukraine) 37 Simon Gerrans (Australia) 38 Thomas Lövkvist (Sweden) 2.36 39 Thomas Rohregger (Austria) 40 George Hincapie (United States Of America) 41 José Serpa (Colombia) 2.38 42 Johan Van Summeren (Belgium) 43 Fränk Schleck (Luxembourg) 44 Andrey Mizourov (Kazakhstan) 45 Roman Kreuziger (Czech Republic) 2.46 46 Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg) 2.51 47 Moisés Aldape Chavez (Mexico) 4.19 48 Rein Taaramae (Estonia) 7.00 49 Carlos Sastre (Spain) 7.17 50 Franco Pellizotti (Italy) 51 Sergey Lagutin (Uzbekistan) 52 Hossein Askari (Iran) 10.33 53 Ruslan Pidgornyy (Ukraine) 54 Julian Dean (New Zealand) 10.37 55 Jacek Morajko (Poland) 56 Ryder Hesjedal (Canada) 57 Matija Kvasina (Croatia) 58 Marcus Ljungqvist (Sweden) 59 Svein Tuft (Canada) 60 Denis Menchov (Russia) 61 Jure Golcer (Slovenia) 62 Jan Valach (Slovakia) 63 Marzio Bruseghin (Italy) 64 Nicolas Roche (Ireland) 65 Laurens Ten Dam (Netherlands) 66 Peter Kusztor (Hungary) 11.55 67 Ivan Stevic (Serbia) 68 Gatis Smukulis (Latvia) 12.59 69 Tanel Kangert (Estonia) 70 Gonzalo Garrido (Chile) 71 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Norway) 72 Andre Cardoso (Portugal) 15.53 73 Aleksandr Kuschynski (Belarus) 74 Dainius Kairelis (Lithuania) 75 Petr Bencik (Czech Republic) 76 Alexandr Pliuschin (Republic of Moldova) 77 Denys Kostyuk (Ukraine) 78 Serguei Ivanov (Russian Federation) 79 Ghader Mizbani Iranagh (Iran) 80 David George (South Africa) 81 Philip Deignan (Ireland) 82 Glen Chadwick (New Zealand) 83 Alexandre Usov (Belarus) 26.10 84 Tomasz Marczynski (Poland) 85 Nebojsa Jovanovic (Serbia) 86 Takashi Miyazawa (Japan) 31.35 87 Rafai Chtioui (Tunisia) 39.15 88 Sungbaek Park (Korea) 89 Kin San Wu (Hong Kong, China) 42.08 90 Luciano Pagliarini (Brazil) 44.38 DNF Alberto Contador (Spain) DNF Simon Spilak (Slovenia) DNF Jens Voigt (Germany) DNF Pierrick Fédrigo (France) DNF Cyril Dessel (France) DNF Pierre Rolland (France) DNF Rigoberto Uran (Colombia) DNF Ben Swift (Great Britain) DNF Stef Clement (Netherlands) DNF Bert Grabsch (Germany) DNF Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) DNF Lars Petter Nordhaug (Norway) DNF Vladimir Miholjevic (Croatia) DNF Christophe Brandt (Belgium) DNF Stefan Schumacher (Germany) DNF Brian Vandborg (Denmark) DNF Jurgen Van den Broeck (Belgium) DNF Timothy Gudsell (New Zealand) DNF Patricio Almonacid (Chile) DNF Evgeni Gerganov (Bulgaria) DNF Borut Bozic (Slovenia) DNF Stuart O'Grady (Australia) DNF Maxim Iglinsky (Kazakhstan) DNF Gabriel Rasch (Norway) DNF Fumiyuki Beppu (Japan) DNF Henry Raabe (Costa Rica) DNF Mehdi Sohrabi (Iran) DNF Mario Contreras (El Salvador) DNF Andriy Grivko (Ukraine) DNF Vladimir Efimkin (Russian Federation) DNF Jason McCartney (United States Of America) DNF Roger Hammond (Great Britain) DNF Karsten Kroon (Netherlands) DNF Oscar Freire (Spain) DNF Steve Cummings (Great Britain) DNF Maxime Monfort (Belgium) DNF Matej Jurco (Slovakia) DNF Roman Bronis (Slovakia) DNF Hichem Chabane (Algeria) DNF Juan José Haedo (Argentina) DNF Liang Zhang (China) DNF Ahmed Belgasem (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya) DNF Gerald Ciolek (Germany) DNF Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia) DNF Jonathan Bellis (Great Britain) DNF Horacio Gallardo (Bolivia) DNF Laszlo Bodrogi (Hungary) DNF Daniel Petrov (Bulgaria) DNF Matias Medici (Argentina) DNF Niki Terpstra (Netherlands) DNF Alejandro Borrajo (Argentina) DNF Robert Hunter (South Africa) DNF David Zabriskie (United States Of America)