Finally, Annemiek van Vleuten has got her crown at the Olympic Games! The Dutchwoman claimed the gold medal on Wednesday, crushing the women's individual time trial (ITT) set around the Fuji International Speedway. After 22.1 demanding kilometres with Mount Fuji as the dramatic backdrop, Van Vleuten won ahead of Switzerland's Marlen Reusser (+56'') and another Dutchwoman, Anna van der Breggen, who took the bronze medal (+1'01'').
Silver medallist in the road race on Sunday, with only Austria's Anna Kiesenhofer to prevent her from taking gold, Van Vleuten had already come very close to Olympic glory five years ago, as she was leading the road race before suffering a brutal crash. On Wednesday, it was time for her to celebrate. The two-time ITT UCI World Champion (2017, 2018) succeeds USA's Kristin Armstrong, now retired after dominating the time trial events in the last three Olympic Games.
The men's ITT also felt like revenge was in the air, with Slovenia's Primož Roglič powering to a historic gold medal a few weeks after he had to abandon the Tour de France due to injuries sustained early in the race. On the same circuit as the women's race, but with two laps to cover, Roglič maintained an average speed of 48.2km/h and pushed the Netherlands' Tom Dumoulin 1'01'' behind. Australia's Rohan Dennis joined them on the podium (+1'10'').
The demanding route could only see a powerful rider make her way to victory among the 25 starters who participated from 11:30 local time. Van Vleuten rode off at 11:58, and quickly clocked the best time at the intermediate point atop the first climb of the day (km 9), already putting a distance of almost 20'' between her and her closest rivals.
Among the favourites of the day, USA's Chloé Dygert didn't find her pace on the ascent and had already dropped 51'' at the first intermediate. Meanwhile Van der Breggen showed she was well in the race, despite a crash during a reconnaissance ride, as she had the third best intermediate time, just behind Australia's Grace Brown.
At 38 years old, Van Vleuten mastered her efforts and maintained a high pace to still be in the lead at the second split. Grace Brown confirmed her great start, trailing by 28'', just ahead of Van der Breggen (+29''). The Australian rider looked likely to take silver on the finish line – but Marlen Reusser had different plans, despite occupying only 5th place at the second intermediate point.
The third and last section was very demanding too, as the gaps on the line show. The top three contenders were within 30'' at the 2nd intermediate point but these differences doubled by the time they made it back to the Fuji International Speedway. Reusser's strong finish brought her a first Olympic Games medal. Van der Breggen saved her spot on the podium, taking bronze in the ITT just like she did five years earlier in Rio, while Brown dropped to 4th position (+1'08'').
The men's event saw an impressive battle between the most powerful riders starting towards the end. With two laps (44.2km) to cover in the heat, effort management was essential to claim a medal. But contenders still had to go hard from the start. At the first intermediate point, there were seven riders within 15'': Filippo Ganna (ITA), Primož Roglič (SLO), Tom Dumoulin (NED), Wout van Aert (BEL), Rohan Dennis (AUS), Rémi Cavagna (FRA) and Stefan Küng (SUI).
The strong men were already at the front, battling for Olympic gold, and, unsurprisingly, they also led the way through the second intermediate point. Cavagna was slipping back, trailing by 30'' behind Roglič, who had put himself in prime position to triumph, although his Jumbo-Visma teammates Dumoulin and Van Aert were right behind him... five contenders were still within 10''.
The second lap opened much bigger differences as Roglič found a significantly higher pace than all his rivals. He was the only one able to maintain the same speed, while the others faded. The final climb, with its sections of 10% gradient, put everyone in their places. And nobody could resist the Slovenian star in this setting, as he finished in 55'04''19 and opened gaps of over a minute.
The battle for the other podium positions was much tighter, with only 4'' separating silver medalist Dumoulin, 2nd in 56'05''58, and 5th placed Ganna (56'09'’93). Only 0.4 seconds behind Dennis (3rd), Küng saw the Olympic Games podium escape him.
As for Ganna, he’ll find other opportunities in Tokyo 2020, on the velodrome in Izu where the track cycling competitions get underway on 2 August. The road cycling events have crowned four different stars - Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz, Austria’s Kiesenhofer, The Netherlands’ Van Vleuten and Slovenia’s Roglič – while mountain bike has two new Olympic Champions – Thomas Pidcock (GBR) and Jolanda Neff (SUI). Specialists in BMX Racing (29-30 July), BMX Freestyle (31 July – 1st August) and track (2-8 August) are now ready to illuminate the Olympic Games.