Dan Martin (left) and Eddie Dunbar from Ireland in action during the men’s road bike race from Fuji International Speedway to Musashinonomori Park during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo by Alex Broadway / Sportsfile
On a day when Dan Martin led the Irish with a typically tough, combative performance, the booty in the men’s Olympic road bike race went to Ecuador. Richard Carapaz made his way by winning his country’s second gold medal in the history of the Games.
Martin was the best of the Irish trio and came home 16th in six hours, nine minutes and four seconds, 3:38 back to the winner after a strenuous 234 km drive to Fuji International Speedway. After approaching the final climb, Dunbar fell sharply for the last 20 km and finished 76th, one place behind his teammate Nicolas Roche.
Martin’s best result in the previous games was his 13th place the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and the 34-year-old made another brave attempt to get among the medal contenders, but could not with the strong climbers on the key climb 40km from the finish.
Dunbar, however, showed one in his first games bold achievement. The 24-year-old demonstrated why he seems to be able to fly the flag of Irish cycling at Grand Tour level in the years to come. Hailing from Banteer, Cork, the birthplace of two-time Olympic hammer throwing champion Pat O’Callaghan, Dunbar seemed intent on making his own influence at the Olympic level, positioning himself at the front of the peloton for much of the race.
He was unlucky early on when he switched to his spare wheel shortly after take-off after a puncture, while Martin also did well to stay on it after having an accident with some big names like Geraint Thomas who later gave up had to, and Nairo Quintana had avoided.
The 234 km long route led the 141 riders through a strenuous test, with temperatures around 30 degrees and the afternoon sun from above.
An early break of five riders built one significant lead as the Irish trio waited their time in the peloton. The leaders built a 16-minute lead with 140 km remaining, but this was quickly reduced as the field on the lower slopes of Mount Fuji. arrived with a flurry of attacks from the peloton. Dunbar attacked himself with just over 50 km remaining and, together with Vincenzo Nibali and Remco Evenepoel, built a 30-second lead over the peloton before being caught.
The key climb was just over 40 km ahead when they made the vicious 6.5 km climb to the Mikuni Pass with an average gradient of 10.5% and sections of stomach-twisting 20% behind them. It was then that the two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar took his first big step, went on the attack and joined the Canadian Michael Woods and the American Brandon McNulty. At this point, Dunbar and Martin were working together, just over a minute behind the lead as they reached the final 25km.
The leading duo was soon joined by a group of four but broke with just over 25km remaining Carapaz and McNulty once again worked together to build a 44-second lead with eight miles to go. Minutes later, Carapaz took the decisive step, and from there it went solo for the Ecuadorian, who raised his arms as he crossed the finish line for a historic victory for his home nation. The Belgian Wout van Aert took silver, the Slovenian Pogacar had to be content with bronze.
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