Games of the XXIX Olympiad
Men's Road Race - 245.2 km (152.4 mi)
09 August 2008
The Spaniards continued their assault on the most coveted awards in sports as Samuel Sanchez proved the strongest in the final selection of six in the men's Olympic road race. With the entire Spanish team -- composed of Sanchez, 2008 Dauphine Libere winner and pre-race favorite Alejandro Valverde, 2007 Tour de France and 2008 Giro d'Italia champion Alberto Contador, 2008 Tour green jersey winner and three-time world champion Oscar Freire, and 2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre -- working selflessly for the success of their nation rather than themselves, it proved the least-heralded Sanchez who was the strongest. "My team was great," Sanchez said to the press after the race. "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." Now the 30-year-old Euskatel-Euskadi rider has taken the biggest win in his career, no longer a surprise.
Davide Rebellin, the Italian rider who was the first to sweep Ardennes week (Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallone, Liege-Bastogne-Liege) in April 2004, took the silver medal on his thirty-seventh birthday. Former Paris-Roubaix winner and two-time world time-trial champion Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) soloed to bridge a long gap back to the leaders in the final kilometers and claimed the bronze. Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia), Andy Schleck (Luxembourg), and Michael Rogers (Australia) rounded out the top six in the lead group which finished the grueling race twelve seconds ahead of the strung-out peloton...
The race unfolded around 1:00 PM in Beijing, the riders bedecked in their national-team uniforms rather than their usual colorful Lycra advertisements for their various team sponsors. The threat of smog choking out the riders was on everyone's mind as the haze settled over the course, though by Beijing standards the route was relatively clear of pollutants. The temperature hovered around 27 degrees Celsius (81 degrees Fahrenheit) and hung humid as the riders set out from Yongdingmen in downtown Beijing and started their ride north through town.
Just like we saw throughout the Tour de France, an early breakaway shot clear in the early kilometers. Two unheralded riders, Horacio Gallardo (Bolivia) and Patricio Almonacid (Chile), were given a long rope by the peloton. By the thirty-kilometer mark of the race, with over two-hundred kilometers left to pedal, the duo had seven and a half minutes on the main field. The peloton continued untroubled, and the two South Americans continued their cooperation, extending their lead to fourteen minutes on the field after only one hour on the road.
Once the second hour began, the peloton started to ratchet up its pace. A group of four, led by Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, tried to attack the peloton but were pulled back into the fold. The Spanish team was looking strong, Giro d'Italia and Tour de France winner Alberto Contador doing domestique work for team leaders Alejandro Valverde and Oscar Freire. Paolo Bettini, the 2004 Olympic champion from Italy, made several trips back to the team car to discuss tactics with his director. The race was moving out of the city proper toward the industrial outstretches, and the air quality dropped as the latitude rose...
Around the fifty-five kilometer mark, a quartet of Eastern European riders -- Dainius Kairelis (Lithuania), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Belarus), Andry Grivko (Ukraine) and Gatis Smukulis (Latvia) -- broke free from the peloton and started a second splinter group off the front. Soon caught, the acceleration by the peloton nonetheless led to a larger fracture in the field. Soon twenty-five riders were off the front, sparked by the counterattack from Raivis Belohvosciks of Latvia. 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre (Spain) made the bridge, as did yellow-jersey wearer Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg). The field was starting to split, hoping that the seven circuits along the Badaling Expressway up Juyong Pass at the Great Wall would bring the peloton back together and give those nations who missed out on the break another shot at gilded glory.
Spain had charge of the race now. Contador, no longer in the maglia rosa, was fetching bottles; Sastre, having traded the maillot jaune for the Spanish kit, was taking long pulls off the front. Soon the race was back together. Andy Schleck threw attack after attack at the peloton, finally causing the decisive break with nineteen kilometers remaining in the race. Kolobnev, Rebellin, Rogers and Sanchez joined the best young rider of the 2008 Tour and gained a small gap. The quintet cooperated well, keeping their distance on the main field.
Another Schleck attack came on the final climb of the seven-lap finishing circuit. Rogers and Kolobnev were distanced, but fought back on. When they finally made the junction, the had an unlikely companion -- time-trial specialist Fabian Cancellara, whose solo attacks have won him the classics Milan San-Remo and Paris-Roubaix. Most thought the Swiss rider would save his strength for the Olympic time trial; Cancellara had other ideas. The uphill finish opened up, and Kolobnev led out the sprint. The three medalists overtook the Russian with only 150 meters remaining, and he was forced to settle for a close fourth. Schleck, the catalyst, came in fifth -- this young rider will have more to offer in future Olympics for certain. Rogers, who will also now turn his focus to the time trial, hung on for sixth...
- Samuel Sanchez (ESP) -- 6.23.49 (38.362 km/h)
- Davide Rebellin (ITA)
- Fabian Cancellara (SWI)
- Alexandr Kolobnev (RUS)
- Andy Schleck (LUX)
- Michael Rogers (AUS)
- Santiago Botero (COL) -- +0.12
- Mario Aerts (BEL)
- Michael Barry (CAN) -- +0.16
- Robert Gesink (NED) -- +0.18
- Levi Leipheimer (USA) -- 0.20
- Chris Anker Sorensen (DEN) -- 0.22
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP)
- Jerome Pineau (FRA)
- Cadel Evans (AUS)
- Przemyslaw Niemec (POL)
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) -- +0.30
- Paolo Bettini (ITA) -- +0.35
- Vladimir Karpets (RUS) -- +1.10
- Murilo Fischer (BRA) -- +2.28