August 06, 2016 (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – Michael Woods of Ottawa was Canada’s only finisher in the 237.5km Men’s Road Race on the opening day of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, finishing 55th. Canada’s two other entries – Hugo Houle of Sainte-Perpétue, Quebec, and Antoine Duchesne of Chicoutimi, Quebec – did not finish, after spending most of the race protecting and supporting Woods.
Canada's Duchesne, Houle and Woods near the front early on ©
The 237.5-kilometre race saw a breakaway group gain over eight minutes on the field before it began to chase. The speed of the chase turned it into a race of attrition, with only 63 finishers out of 143 starters. Duchesne and Houle put in a big effort to assist Woods, including spending time at the front of the peloton in the chase.
Men's start... © Cor Vos
Greg van Avermaet of Belgium won the gold medal, with Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark taking silver and Rafal Majka of Poland bronze. Majka was in a final break with Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) and Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Colombia) but on the final descent the latter two crashed. Majka was caught with about 1km to go, and as the finish line approached, Van Avermaet attacked to capture the gold.
Greg van Avermaet wins gold © Cor Vos
Final podium (l-r) Majka, Van Avermaet, Fuglsang © Cor Vos
“The initial part of the race went great,” said Woods. “Hugo and Antoine did an amazing job of keeping me well positioned in the decisive moments of the race. I came into the climb third wheel, in the best position possible. I had really good legs the first time up the climb and was starting to feel confident that I could do a top-10.”
Duchesne and Woods © Cor Vos
Peloton racing in beautiful Rio © Cor Vos
“But the second time up the climb I just came apart with about 3 kilometres to go and lost the wheel in front of me, and went through a bad patch mentally. I’m pretty gutted to not be in a better position, and to fall through after the great job Hugo and Antoine did, but at the same time, I gave it my all. This is, without a doubt, the hardest race I’ve ever done. The wind, the heat, and the 5,000 metres of climbing … throughout the day it was just so hard. I’ve never gone that deep before.”
Houle getting a water bottle ©
“It was a pretty hard day,” agreed Houle. “It was fast from the start, and then a break went away with six strong guys. Antoine and I just tried to keep Mike as safe as we could and keep him to the front of the race. With the cobblestones and the climbs and steep descents we saw a lot of crashes … but we placed Mike the best we could for the last circuit, and then Mike had to do the best he could, because we were out of the game. For myself, I just didn’t have the legs to follow the big guns. We were hoping for a better result at the end, but it is what it is, and we gave it everything we had.”
One the many climbs on the course © Cor Vos
Antoine Duchesne commented, “The race went as planned. Me and Hugo were here as support for Mike, and we tried all day. It was a really fast day, and we never had any down moments to recover. There were a lot of crashes and broken bikes, so we tried to keep him safe and protected for the first three-quarters of the race, and that’s what we did, I think perfectly. But at the end I think it was the strongest rider that won the race. We really hoped for better, but Mike didn’t have the legs to follow the best. That’s bike racing.”
Three Canucks battling ©
Head Coach, Jacques Landry, also saw some very positive notes from Saturday’s road race: “I think the guys rode a sound tactical race. The plan was to keep Mike out of trouble until they hit the Vista Chinesa finishing circuit, which is what both Antoine and Hugo did. Sure one can be disappointed in the result, but there is nobody in Canada at the moment that could have done well on this course barring Mike. We had to play the card of getting him in positon and hope that he had the legs to finish well. There is a bright future ahead for these three guys and I am proud of the way they rode,” commented Landry.
Full results here.