Richard Carapaz, the history maker

Newly minted Olympic road race champion Richard Carapaz says ‘This is the best thing that could have happened’.

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Richard Carapaz outlasted his rivals to take an historic solo victory at the Olympic road race, less than a week after finishing third overall at the 2021 Tour de France.

“There is no comparison,” Carapaz said after the podium ceremony on the Fuji Speedway. “This is the best thing that could have happened to me in my life.”

The 28-year-old’s Olympic medal is just the third ever for Ecuador, and only the second gold in history – in his first Olympic appearance.

“Back in my country right now, they’ll be going crazy,” he said. “It’s the second gold medal in our history. If I’m not mistaken, it’s 24 years since the last one, so it’s special. It’s special because it’s the first in this sport and I think it’s the sport most people follow in my country.”

Since the start of his career, Carapaz has repeatedly added his name to the history books. His overall victory at the 2019 Giro d’Italia was Ecuador’s first ever Grand Tour, and he became the first ever Ecuadorian to climb onto the Tour’s final podium when he did so last Sunday. With his Olympic road race win, the 28-year-old not only adds to his country’s all-time medal tally, but he also takes his maiden one-day race victory.

“We’ve had a lot of good achievements, some good titles, and now another one with this gold medal. It’s incredible.”

Fresh from an aggressive Tour de France, not to mention some promising attacks in the small number of classics he raced earlier this year, Carapaz started the Olympic road race as one of the favourites. But with one of the smaller teams on the start line and a large number of fierce rivals, he knew he had to bide his time.

“I simply waited for my moment,” he said. “It was a bit of a crazy day, and a very hard race. I didn’t have a team like some of the others did – it was just Jonny [Narvaez] and me – but we had confidence, we’ve both got quite a bit of experience and have raced a lot in Europe.

“The speed on the climb was very fast, and then there were lots of attacks. I had to be patient as the selections were being made and wait for the right moment – that for me was the most complicated part.”

The winning moment for Carapaz was when Brandon McNulty (USA) jumped away with about 25 km to go. The two of them worked well together, and with the chasers failing to organise behind – the presence of Wout van Aert and Tadej Pogačar did not help – the leaders opened up a decent gap. 

“McNulty was a good breakaway companion. I profited a lot from being on his wheel on the flat. The moment we saw we had 20 seconds, we knew the medals were in play and we went all-in. We had that small advantage of 20-30 seconds, and at one point it hit 40.”

Once on the Fuji Speedway, with around 5 km to go, McNulty paid dearly for his earlier efforts and dropped off the pace, leaving Carapaz to ride away.

“When we reached the track, I simply carried on and he slowed down. I had my doubts because there were a lot of strong riders behind who could have come back, but in the end I had good legs, and those 30 seconds we carved out served me well. It was just full-gas in those final kilometres.”

In the end, Carapaz had more than enough time to enjoy his famous victory, first along the finishing straight and then during the podium ceremony.

“It is incredible to see your flag as the top one, and to have this medal. It’s sensational.”

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