Wednesday 21 March 2018

Martin equals best ever Irish result in 'toughest ever' Olympic road race

Dan Martin crosses the line in 13th place in Saturday’s grueling Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Dan Martin crosses the line in 13th place in Saturday’s grueling Olympic road race in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Gerard Cromwell

Dan Martin equalled Ireland's best cycling result in the Olympic road race when he finished 13th at the end of an arduous, drama-filled, six-hour race on Saturday.

Despite equalling Ciaran Power's best Irish finish at an Olympic Games (in Athens 2004), Martin was disappointed with his 13th place.

"I suppose it shows how far we've come," admitted Martin afterwards.

"For a nation like Ireland to be coming here with two guys who can medal, and then be really disappointed with a 13th place finish out of 150 starters, it shows how far we've come.

"It shows the ambition we have. It was one of the hardest bike races I have ever done. It was hot, on a tricky course and there was no let-up all day. It was a wearing-down process.

"I just lacked that little bit on the climb. You lose a wheel and your race is gone.

"We rode our best and that's all you can ask for."

Martin's cousin and Olympic team-mate Nicolas Roche finished a creditable 29th on a course that saw less than half the field complete the race.

"Both myself and Dan came into this race with high ambitions," Roche said afterwards.

"I think the course was a bit of a surprise. The course and racing were harder than what a lot of people expected.

"We raced pretty well, but obviously I was hoping for a better result. I came to give a bit more; I thought I was maybe going to be able to, so I'm disappointed after the finish."

Next up for Ireland's Olympic cycling team will be Shannon McCurley, who competes in the women's Keirin on the Rio velodrome next Saturday. Billed as the toughest in the history of the Games due to the number of difficult climbs on the gruelling course, the 9km ascent of Canoas/Vista Chinesa - which had to be tackled three times in the last 70km - was the sting in the tail of the 237.5km Olympic epic.

But what goes up must come down and in the end it was the descent from that final climb that did all the damage.

Having already left Australian pre-race favourite Richie Porte sitting at the side of the road nursing a broken shoulder blade on the previous lap, the sinuous descent through the jungle canopy changed the face of the race again with just 14km to go.

With a 40-second advantage over the nearest chasers and just 15km remaining, a three-man breakaway group containing Italy's Vincenzo Nibali, Sergio Henao of Colombia and Rafal Majka of Poland looked set to contest the gold, silver and bronze medals between them as they descended towards the finish at Copacabana beach.

With all three among the best descenders in the pro peloton, all that looked left to be decided was the order in which they would receive their medals.

Instead though, the descent left Nibali with a broken collarbone and Henao with a fractured pelvis as, perhaps pushing their advantage too hard, they hit the deck on a bend leaving Majka, who narrowly escaped joining them on the ground, with an open road in front of him and the gold medal in his sights.

If he could hold off the chasers for the last 11km.

Less than a minute later Britain's Geraint Thomas saw his medal hopes wiped out when he crashed out of the chase group on the same descent as his former colleagues, while South Africa's Louis Mentjes, Andrei Zeits of Kazakhstan, Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez, Julian Alaphilippe (France), Greg Van Avermaet (Belgian) and Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) began to close in on the lone leader despite a lack of co-operation in the closing kilometres.

Open-mouthed and with his face etched in pain, two-time Tour de France King of the Mountains Majka fought to stave off the challenge from behind but could do nothing when Van Avermaet and Fuglsang rode up to his rear wheel with 2km to go.

Once this duo made contact, the sprint was always going to be a formality with the much faster Belgian, who spent a couple of days in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France last month, adding the Olympic title to his Tour stage win and victories at Het-Volk and Tirreno-Adriatico this year.

To rub salt into the Polish rider's wounds, the fresher Fuglsang took silver from a depleted Majka as Alaphillipe led home the rest for fourth 22 seconds later.

A couple of minutes later, Tour de France winner Chris Froome denied Martin 12th place in a tight sprint finish.

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