Sanchez Wins Gold Medal in Olympic Road Race
Samuel Sanchez (Spain) is the Olympic road race champion. The Spaniard took a six-up sprint to win the gold medal in Beijing in 6:23:49. Davide Rebellin (Italy) won the silver medal in the seven lap, 245-km event, and Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) took the bronze.
From the start, the racing was aggressive. At two km, Horacio Gallardo (Bolivia) and Patricio Almonacid (Chile) rolled off of the front. The pair led the field by 7:30 at 30 km. At 45 km, the duo's advantage had ballooned to 14 minutes.
A series of attacks led to an escape by Jens Voigt (Germany) and Raivis Belohvosciks (Latvia). A 26-rider break formed that consisted of Voigt and Bert Grabsch (both from Germany), Marzio Bruseghin (Italy), Carlos Sastre (Spain), Andriy Grivko and Ruslan Podgorny (both from Ukraine), Aleksandr Kuschynski (Belarus), Remi Pauriol (France), Gatis Smukulis (Latvia), Jurgen Van den Broeck (Belgium), Jonathan Bellis (Great Britain), Ryder Hejesdal (Canada), Roman Kreuziger and Petr Bencik (both from Czech Republic), Kim Kirchen (Luxembourg), Murilo Fischer (Brazil), Simon Gerrans (Australia), Matija Kvasina and Radoslav Rogina (both from Croatia), Jan Valach (Slovakia), Borut Bozic and Tadej Valjavic (both from Slovenia), Andrey Mizourov (Kazakhstan), Stef Clement (the Netherlands), and Dainius Kairelis (Lithuania). The presence of Bruseghin and Sastre in the break relieved Spain and Italy, the two strongest teams in the race, of the responsibility of chasing. Russia and the United States, which had missed the break, began to chase.
After one lap, Gallardo and Almonacid led the chase group by 10:20 and the peloton by 11:40. After a few laps, the chase group caught and dropped Almonacid and Gallardo. The group also dropped Bellis, who abandoned not long after.
With four laps left, Podgorny and Kuschynski attacked their companions and got clear. In the peloton, Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) led the peloton, which began to accelerate. With 70 km left, the bunch reeled in the chase group, leaving only Podgorny and Kuschynski to be caught.
The peloton's acceleration shelled many riders. The best known of these was Stefan Schumacher (Germany), who abandoned soon after.
A series of attacks led to Thomas Lovkvist (Sweden), Rigoberto Uran (Colombia), and Johan Van Summeren (Belgium) bridging up to Podgorny and Kuschynski. The Spaniards, however, took over at the front and reeled in the five.
More attacks followed. Christian Pfaffenberger (Austria) got clear and led the field at the start of the bell lap. The peloton caught him, however, and with 19 km left, Cadel Evans (Australia) attacked and took 15 riders with him. Andy Schleck (Luxembourg), Rebellin, Sanchez, Michael Rogers (Australia), and Alexander Kolobnev (Russia) got clear of the 15-man move.
On the final ascent of the 330-m Badaling Pass, Schleck attacked and dropped Kolobnev and Rogers. The pair clawed their way back to the leading trio, and Cancellara joined them. With 500 m left, the sextet made a right turn and took on the uphill finish.
Kolobnev made the first move, but his chasing efforts had taken too much out of him. Sanchez went against the right-hand barriers, took the lead with 150 m remaining, and held off Rebellin.
Sanchez is the latest Spaniard to win a major athletic competition in 2008. Rafael Nadal won Wimbledon, Alberto Contador won the Giro d'Italia, and Carlos Sastre won the Tour de France. Let's not forget Alejandro Valderde winning one-day races and the Spanish national soccer team winning UEFA 2008. In a talent-rich country such as Spain, a rider such as Sanchez can be overlooked, but those who know his quality knew better than to overlook him. Sanchez won three stages of last year's Vuelta a Espana and finished third overall. He finished seventh in the 2008 Tour de France. No one will overlook him again.
On Wednesday, many of these same riders will cross paths in the Olympic time trial. Who will prevail? Cancellara, a two-time world champion? Levi Leipheimer (United States)? David Millar (Great Britain)? David Zabriskie (United States)? Check in at www.roadcycling.com and find out!