Next to the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, and even world championships, the Olympics may not have the same prestige for pro cyclists. But the Rio Games provided thrills for fans around every corner of the sinuous, hilly road race course, the tricky mountain bike track, and the velodrome. Here are seven of our favorite stories from the 2016 Olympics.
Caley Fretz encountered Puerto Rico’s lone representative in the men’s Olympic road race, a man who was sure to arrive early so he could soak in the experience.
When Chris Froome, Alejandro Valverde, and Vincenzo Nibali turn the screws on Vista Chinesa, Brian Babilonia will not be there. He will fight and claw at the peloton’s whipping tail, and he will lose. But he is here, now, standing on Rio’s coast with the same Tyvek number on his back as all the rest. His bike is five years old, his wheels are unbranded, his entourage can be counted by a man with no hands at all. But he is here.
Dan Craven skipped his post-race massage after the Olympics road race, because he was done racing. He started eating ice cream in the athletes village. He even took a few sips of beer. Then he got a call: A time trial slot has opened up, do you want it?
Maybe it’s hyperbole to call the Rio men’s road race the best race ever, but damn it was good. Yes, I see you in the back, about to cite an obscure stage from Volta a Catalunya or something — okay, let’s just say the Olympics were the best race of the season.
Katerina Nash must have dreamed of the Olympics, growing up as a star athlete, attending a sports academy in the Czech Republic. But she probably didn’t picture her debut at the Summer Games. Here’s the story of a woman who has toed the line in 11 different Olympic races, both in the Summer and Winter Games.
They were tidal, Mara Abbott’s eyes, glistening pools that dried out only in brief moments of distraction from the all-encompassing loss. She stood in front of the media and pulled herself together and answered questions until she couldn’t, and we couldn’t, anymore.
The start list said it all in the men’s Olympics cross-country mountain bike race.
On the front line were the five-star favorites: Two-time Olympic champion Julien Absalon, defending Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy, and soon-to-be Olympic champion Nino Schurter, where they were supposed to be. In last place was uninvited party-crasher Peter Sagan, ranked 900th in a sport that he hadn’t competed in at the highest level since he won a world junior title seven years ago. Sagan was so far off the back, figuratively and literally, he was the lone rider in a line all by himself — start line number seven — behind riders from Guam, Rwanda, Hong Kong, and Lesotho. It was a fitting symbol of just how unlikely the race was going to be.
Caley Fretz was in Rio for two weeks. So what was it really like to witness this crazy international sports event taking place in one of the world’s most diverse and colorful cities?
Early each morning, I stepped out the front door of my Airbnb apartment and turned right, walking in the shade of drooping tropical trees past two doormen guarding gates, a high-end pastry shop, and a woman with her small child, asleep beneath a covered stoop on a thin mattress of wadded blankets. I walked one block then another toward Copacabana’s white sands and the big green sign that indicated a media shuttle stop, where I flashed my credential, stepped into a blue tour bus, and sat in plush, air-conditioned, Wi-Fi-enabled comfort as the driver pointed us down special Rio 2016 highway lanes, away from the woman and her child, past stacks of stalled traffic and bright hillside favelas. We sped through a developing city inside a first-world cocoon.