Carapaz brought his gritty, aggressive best to the attritional six hours of the Toyko road race, countering a stinging acceleration from Brandon McNulty before distancing the young American in the final six kilometers.
“It’s an incredible moment for me,” Carapaz told AFP after taking Olympic gold. “You always have to believe. I have worked so hard to be here and it’s a huge moment for me.”
“I went to the Tour with the podium on my mind. I made it, and I came here with the feeling that I could achieve something special. I won a gold medal and even when I crossed the line I couldn’t believe it.”
Carpaz’s move over a grinding rise of the Fuji Speedway circuit was an all-or-nothing gamble.
A stellar chase group of fast finishers hovered just a few hundred meters back, and the Ecuadorian knew the likes of Tadej Pogačar, Wout van Aert and Adam Yates would easily outkick him in a reduced sprint.
With McNulty starting to fade, Carapaz had to go solo or see his chance slip through his fingers.
The gamble paid off with gold. Carapaz became the second-ever Ecuadorian Olympic gold medallist after Jefferson Perez won the race walk in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“Carapaz stayed ahead very well,” van Aert said after sprinting to second. “We knew he would be very, very strong, and he deserved the win.”
Born at 2,800m altitude in the Colombia-border region of Carchi, Carapaz became a trailblazer for Ecuadorian cycling.
Carapaz’s ride to Giro d’Italia victory in 2019 gripped his nation, and he has become the leading light of a South American country yet to embrace cycling in the way that Colombia has. An Olympic gold could change that forever.
Carapaz’s one teammate Jhonatan Narváez finished over 10 minutes back after doing bottle duty for his leader through the opening hours of the race.
“I can only say thank you to the Ecuadoran people for the support and, honestly, for giving us such a big push,” Carapaz said Saturday.
Olympic gold further cements Carapaz’s growing prominence in the peloton.
Just six days ago, he stepped to third on the podium behind the unstoppable Pogačar and breakout ace Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France.
Carapaz now has a Giro d’Italia title, an Olympic gold, and three grand tour top-4 finishes in a trophy case that only looks likely to grow further. The 28-year-old has one year remaining on his contract with Ineos Grenadiers and his stock is set to soar alongside fellow South American and Giro champion Egan Bernal in the talent-packed team.
Ironically, there was a sense that third hadn’t been good enough for Carapaz at the Tour.
Left in the sticky situation as the sole survivor of a planned four-prong Ineos Grenadiers assault after the team lost options early on, Carapaz carried the huge expectation of his super-power squad all alone.
“I did everything I could to get a good result in the Tour,” he had said after the penultimate stage in France.
“This is a good result for me. There are very few riders in the world who can win the Tour. I didn’t make it this year, but I’m sure I’ll do it one day.”
Any sense of disappointment Carapaz may have been feeling will be far in the rear-view mirror after his Olympic triumph.
Carapaz now has a whirlwind three weeks ahead of him before moving on to the Vuelta a España. Can he go one better than his second-place at last year’s Spanish tour?
He will “always believe” it’s possible – and so will everybody else.