Tokyo – Reigning Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar won the bronze medal in the men’s cycling road race at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday in what is the first Olympic medal in cycling for Slovenia. Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz won the race.
The photo finish showed that the 22-year-old Pogačar was within a hair’s breadth of the silver Olympic medal as he crossed the finish line only a few centimetres behind the second-placed Wout van Aert from Belgium.
“This is something completely unbelievable, I’m speechless,” he told the public broadcaster TV Slovenija after bagging the bronze Olympic medal, adding that “a medal is a medal”.
He described the 234 km road race with the elevation gain of 4,865 metres as one of the toughest ones in his career so far, saying there had been a lot of factors that made it difficult such as heat and high humidity.
“I’d been suffering since the last climb, but I gave it my best shot,” he added.
Primož Roglič, another pre-race favourite and Pogačar’s compatriot, placed 28th. The 31-year-old withdrew from this year’s Tour de France due to several crashes and ensuing injuries, but told the public broadcaster ahead of today’s race that he was feeling better and was ready for the Summer Olympics.
He will have another chance to bag an Olympic medal on Wednesday when he will compete in the men’s time trial.
The other two Slovenian riders competing in the race, Jan Polanc and Jan Tratnik, placed below 40th with Tratnik having done the lion’s share in keeping the Slovenian team ahead as he set a hard tempo train for some 100 kilometres.
The race featured five climbs, including an ascent partway up to Mount Fuji (14.3 km at 6%) and the culmination of the event, the steep Mikuni Pass climb (6.5 km at 10.6%), where the first attacks to cross the finish line first started today.
Pogačar’s bronze medal is the first medal for Slovenia at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the first Slovenian Olympic medal in cycling.
When it comes to the Summer Olympics, the country fared best at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when it won a total of five medals. At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics it got four medals.
A total of 54 Slovenian athletes are in the running for Olympic medals at the Tokyo Olympics, which will end on 8 August.