OYAMA, Japan — Richard Carapaz was six days and 6,000 miles from Paris when he found himself surrounded by a group of familiar cyclists: the cream of the Tour de France peloton.
He had failed to shake them in the Alps or the Pyrenees and had to settle for third place in the world’s most famous cycle race. Here he is now at the Olympics, tearing through the foothills of Mount Fuji, watching rivals he knew all too well.
Belgian Wout Van Aert, who won the 21st stage of the Tour last Sunday, won the silver medal, edging new Tour champion Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia in a sprint down the home stretch. The trio was one of the most decorated podiums in recent Olympic memory, collectively representing victories in almost all of the major one-day cycling races and two of the three Grand Tours.
But they were just the headliners in the throng of star runners who made it through the final climb together. Almost all of them had traveled to Japan directly from the Tour, with some taking flights just hours after the race ended on the Champs-Elysées. The setting here, however, couldn’t have been more different. The grueling 234-kilometer (145-mile) course started from the outskirts of Tokyo, up Mount Fuji, and back down to a spectacular finish loop around the Fuji Speedway racing circuit.
Climbing specialists have been drooling over it since the map was unveiled more than two years ago. No one was more favorite than Pogacar, who now won two Tours de France before the age of 23. Wearing Slovenia’s green and blue instead of the Tour’s yellow jersey, he was easy to recognize with his hair sticking out of his helmet. vents and legs for climbing all day. And at 38 kilometers from the finish, it was he who fired the fireworks with the first attack.
Although the riders all wore their national team jerseys here, their usual allegiances with the pro team soon became evident.
The only reason American Brandon McNulty could be seen working hard for Pogacar, for example, was because they are teammates of the UAE-Emirates team. The same goes for Pole Michal Kwiatkowski who cooperated with Carapaz on some of the steepest slopes of the race.
By the end of the climb, Carapaz had dropped out of the top group with McNulty, a 23-year-old who has proven himself as a world-class talent in time trials. But as they settled down for a duel on the circuit, Carapaz found one final attack, rocking 2,100 race miles around France this month and a 6,000 mile flight.
All he had to do was stay on the sidelines for three more to win Olympic gold.
Write to Joshua Robinson at [email protected]
Copyright © 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8