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Olympic Games notebook: Tadej Pogačar makes history in Tour de France-Olympic double

Richard Carapaz is Ecuador's second Olympic medalist, Brandon McNulty hits best US result since 2012, and how Tour de France riders fared in the Olympics.

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If Tadej Pogačar isn’t already a machine on two wheels, he set another mark Saturday in Japan in the Olympic Games.

The 22-year-old made history Saturday to become the first Tour de France winner to also claim an Olympic medal in the road race, when he kicked to bronze behind Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) and Wout van Aert (Belgium).

Tour winners have hit the Olympic podium before, including Bradley Wiggins, who won the Tour and an Olympic gold medal in individual time trial in 2012. Jan Ullrich finished second in the 2000 Tour, and won gold in the Olympic road race that summer.

Pogačar is the first to win the Tour and an Olympic medal in the road race in the same year.

“I gave it my best, and I’m super happy,” Pogačar said Saturday in Tokyo. “We checked the course and the final climb. I felt good at the bottom. I actually don’t know what I was thinking when I attacked. I soon was regretting it. But then the group of the big favorites formed, and I was pretty happy with the group. I think a solo ride would not have been a good idea. It would have been too hard.”

The bronze medal is also Slovenia’s first Olympic medal in any cycling discipline (road, track, mountain bike and BMX), which dovetails nicely into Slovenia’s first yellow jersey.

The milestone is just the latest for Pogačar, who will not race the individual time trial Wednesday. Slovenia only earned one starting position for TT, and Primož Roglič — who crashed out of the Tour and finished 28th in the road race — will race Wednesday.

Also read: What the stars said after riveting road race

UAE-Team Emirates officials will decide within the next week or so if Pogačar will race the Vuelta a España, which starts August 14 in Burgos.

Third overall in 2019, Pogačar would be a favorite for victory if he decides to race the Spanish grand tour.

Tour de France vs. Olympics-specific preparation

One of the big questions coming into the Tokyo Games was would the pros coming off the Tour de France be too cooked to be able to race for the medals.

Saturday’s results proved that the Tour remains the best preparation for an Olympic Games.

Eight of the top-10 raced the Tour, with the entire medals podium coming in hot after highly successful editions of the Tour.

Pogačar, the bronze medalist, won his second straight Tour. Wout van Aert won three stages before kicking to silver, while gold medalist Richard Carapaz was third overall in the Tour.

Only Adam Yates (Great Britain) and Max Schachmann (Germany), ninth and 10th, respectively, did not race the Tour.

So much for that notion of jet lag, huh?

Brandon McNulty hits best US result since 2012

The Arizonan Olympic rookie’s sixth in the elite men’s road race is USA Cycling’s best result since Taylor Phinney was fourth in 20212 London.

Brandon McNulty’s ride also makes him just the ninth U.S. elite men’s racer to finish in the top-10 in Olympic Games competition in the road race since 1984.

Also read: Brandon McNulty lights up Olympic race with sixth

No U.S. rider has medaled in the elite men’s road race since Alexi Grewal won gold in Los Angeles.

It looked like McNulty might be in with a chance for a medal when he and eventual gold medalist Carapaz built up a promising lead. A few things stacked up against McNulty; van Aert opened up the chase, Carapaz attacked him on a kicker with about 6km to go, and McNulty ran out of gas against the chasing group.

McNulty confirmed his class by staying with the lead group, and then trying a surprise attack and still hang on for sixth.

“Wow. It’s crazy,” McNulty said. “It’s a big honor for me to be the first big result of the Olympics in a while. It’s super, super big for me.”

It’s another great result from one of the most promising American talents to emerge in the past decade. Wednesday’s time trial will give him and USA Cycling teammate Lawson Craddock, 80th Saturday, a chance to medal.

Richard Carapaz over the moon

Carapaz became only the second Olympic medalist from Ecuador when he won the men’s road race Saturday.

Speed-walker Jefferson Pérez won gold and silver in the men’s 20km race walk in 1996 and 2008, respectively.

Carapaz, third in the 2021 Tour, is only the second rider to win the Olympic road race and finish on the Tour de France podium in the same year. Ullrich struck gold in 2000, after finishing second to Lance Armstrong in that year’s Tour de France.

Wout van Aert continues streak of close-calls

You gotta feel bad for Belgian star Wout van Aert.

Once Carapaz and Brandon McNulty were up the road, van Aert was not finding much help in the chasing group. Why? Well, everyone knows his finishing speed. And perhaps everyone was on the rivet.

Without van Aert taking the big pulls to trim the distance, Pogačar would have never finished third, and McNulty might have had enough in the tank to take silver.

Either way, van Aert will take a bittersweet silver out of Japan. It’s a well-deserved reward for a spectacular race, but marks another close call for the Belgian superstar.

Within the last year, van Aert has finished runner-up in a growing list of marquee races, including the world TT and road titles, Tour of Flanders, and the Olympic road race.

Of course, during that timeline, he’s also won five stages in the Tour de France, Amstel Gold Race, and Gent-Wevelgem. That glass is definitely half-full.

What’s next?

The elite women race Sunday in a 137km race from Musashinonomori Park to the Fuji International Speedway.

Defending champion Anna van der Breggen leads a powerful Dutch team as pre-race favorites. USA Cycling starts with a maximum allotment of four riders.