Carapaz attacked with McNulty with around 25 kilometers to go, and the pair worked together to pull out a strong gap over a stellar lead group.
Wout van Aert (Belgium) opened up the sprint in an elite chasing group for second-place and Tadej Pogačar (Slovenia) kicked next to draw level. The podium came down to the photo finish, and van Aert’s bike throw was enough to secure silver, with Tour de France champ Pogačar claiming bronze.
The Ecuadorian made his winning attack at around 6km to go as the heavyweight chase group loomed close behind.
Carapaz powered away from McNulty on a dragging rise, and once he had a gap, the victory never looked in doubt.
The 28-year-old time trialed away from the chase and came down the finish straight with over one minute of a gap, giving him the time to relish the biggest result of his career alongside his pink jersey at the Giro d’Italia.
Carapaz becomes only the second Ecuadorian gold medalist after Jefferson Perez won the 20km walk in 1996.
McNulty finished sixth after a standout ride that defied all expectations.
Mikuni Pass plays kingmaker
The race exploded on the extra steep slopes of the Mikuni Pass, which fell at around 40km to go.
Belgium lit up the pace on the early pitches with Tiesj Benoot and Mauri Vansevenant as van Aert sat in the wheels – though Remco Evenepoel was dropped under his own team’s tempo.
Pogačar sparked the selection with an initial testing attack before North American stars McNulty and Michael Woods countered to form a lead trio.
— USA Cycling LIVE (@usacyclinglive) July 24, 2021
Van Aert was forced to lead the chase as the front group shattered, with Primož Roglič one of many to crack. The burly Belgian was pressured by the accelerations as other riders from the bunch winched their way across to the lead trio.
The front group reformed over the summit of the brutal climb and van Aert dragged himself back into contention.
McNulty made his move on the Mikuni plateau at 25km to go, dragging Carapaz across with him. The duo combined well and pulled out over one minute of a gap as the superstar group stuttered and failed to cooperate.
Van Aert took to the front through the final 12km as it looked like the race was running away from him, but no one was willing to ride with the fast-finishing Belgian.
Carapaz and McNulty’s gap began to tumble as Van Aert turned on the afterburners in an attempt to bring back the escape. Sensing the charging group over his shoulder, Carapaz kicked out solo at 6km to go, dropping McNulty before TTing toward a gold medal.
Belgium and Slovenia set the tone, Italy aggressive
Belgium and Slovenia took control of the race after a break of eight went away and nudged out a gap of nearly 20 minutes.
Defending champ Greg Van Avermaet and Slovenian Jan Tratnik did a huge amount of the pulling through the first 120km of the race. Van Avermaet eventually blew on the Sanroku pass and abandoned as the race passed through the Speedway circuit.
Tratnik proved to be rider of the day as other strong nations – including Belgium – sat back and left Slovenia to do the work after the Sanroku climb. Tratnik returned to the front and almost singlehandedly pulled the bunch into the Speedway circuit ahead of the Mikuni Pass.
Italy was aggressive through the back-half of the race.
Giulio Ciccone briefly turned up the tempo to thin the peloton over the Sanroku climb and Vincenzo Nibali was on the attack ahead of the Mikuni climb. Nibali hit off the front with Remco Evenepoel and Eddie Dunbar before Denmark, France and the Netherlands shut it down to bring the race all back together ahead of the mayhem on the Mikuni.
Alberto Bettiol was in contention for the Italians until a late bout of cramp put him out of medal contention.
Geraint Thomas abandons after early crash
Geraint Thomas was caught in a crash after around 80km, with Ciccone, Tao Geoghegan Hart and Nairo Quintana also coming down.
Thomas had a number of large cuts to his clothing and patches of road rash down one side. He continued riding for another 100km before abandoning with 60km remaining.
McNulty shines for USA
Phoenix-born McNulty had a standout ride. The 23-year-old attacked his way into the lead group, first matching Pogačar’s acceleration on the Minuki and then clipping away with Carapaz as the race neared its end. McNulty cracked under Carapaz’s acceleration but was able to hang on in the chase group to take a standout sixth place.
Lawson Craddock was distanced on the approach to the Mikuni Pass, along with scores of other top riders including Geoghegan Hart, Quintana and Alejandro Valverde.
Olympic Games Road Race Results
|2||VAN AERT Wout||Belgium||1:07|
|6||MCNULTY Brandon||United States||1:07|
|9||YATES Adam||Great Britain||1:07|
|15||VAN BAARLE Dylan||Netherlands||3:38|
|17||YATES Simon||Great Britain||3:38|
|26||BENNETT George||New Zealand||6:20|
|36||KUKRLE Michael||Czech Republic||10:12|
|52||DE BOD Stefan||South Africa||11:27|
|68||AMADOR Andrey||Costa Rica||16:20|
|80||CRADDOCK Lawson||United States||16:20|
|82||JOHANNESSEN Tobias Halland||Norway||19:46|
Results provided by ProCyclingStats.