Cycling: On road, track and BMX park, cycling soars to new heights
By Martyn Herman
IZU, Japan (Reuters) - It began with an Austrian mathematics lecturer bamboozling a five-star field to snatch gold in the women's road race and culminated in track king Jason Kenny in seventh heaven.
In between -- on road, dirt, track or BMX park -- the Tokyo Olympic cycling provided a constant stream of two-wheeled highlights that will live long in the memory.
Visually, and for sheer drama, the newly-added BMX freestyle competition took some beating. While on the slick boards of the Izu Velodrome, in the forested hills west of Tokyo, the sound of excited fans filled the air as world records tumbled.
Whereas the vast majority of Olympic venues sadly lacked atmosphere because of COVID-19 restrictions, the drama of the cycling events, most of which took place out of the capital, was enjoyed by crowds.
They lined the brutally-steep Mikuni Pass as Ecuador's Ricard Carapaz produced a late attack to triumph in one of the hardest Olympic men's road races ever.
What happened 24 hours later in the women's race will enter cycling folklore.
Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer got so far in front of the main group as part of a breakaway that a high-class Dutch road trio dripping with world titles forgot she was there.
Kiesenhofer hung on grimly around the Fuji International Speedway to cross the line, exhausted, just over a minute ahead of Annemiek van Vleuten who celebrated, thinking she had won.
Van Vleuten's despair turned to joy a few days later as she powered to gold in the women's time trial -- winning by a huge 56 seconds from Switzerland's Marlen Reusser.
Like Van Vleuten, Slovenian Primoz Roglic was also a class apart as he won the men's time trial -- weeks after his Tour de France hopes were left in tatters.
Britain's dominance in the velodrome is waning but the nation still topped the overall cycling medals table with six golds -- due in no small part to their BMX racers.
Bethany Shriever won the women's racing event at Ariake Urban Sport Park, ending the reign of Colombian great Mariana Pajon in a thrilling final. Dutchman Niek Kimmann held off Britain's Kye Whyte in a men's nailbiter of a final, although a dreadful crash which left American Connor Fields, the Rio champion, with a brain bleed, added a downbeat note.
Britain struck another unexpected gold in the freestyle -- an event that literally took the sports to new heights -- with Charlotte Worthington snatching gold from American favourite Hannah Roberts by landing a 360 backflip, the first by a woman.
Jolanda Neff led a Swiss sweep of the women's mountain bike podium while Britain's Tom Pidcock dominated the men's race.
When attention switched to the track the question was whether Britain's domination of the past three Games would end.
It looked likely on day two when three titles they had owned, seemingly forever, were surrendered.
Germany's fearsome foursome of Franziska Brausse, Lisa Brennauer, Lisa Klein and Mieke Kroeger beat Britain in the team pursuit final, inflicting a first taste of Olympic defeat on Laura Kenny with a third world record in 24 hours.
Shortly afterwards the Dutch won the team sprint -- outclassing a British trio led by Jason Kenny.
Denmark ended Britain's gold-medal hopes in the men's team pursuit, only to lose to Filippo Ganna's Italy in a rip-roaring final the following day.
The Kennys were not done, however. Laura rebounded to join Katie Archibald and win the debut women's madison, while Jason lit up the final day with an astonishing ride to win the keirin and become Britain's most-decorated Olympian with seven golds.
Dutchman Lavreysen finished with two golds from the sprints but perhaps the story of the Games was written by his team mate Shanne Braspennincx who won gold in the women's keirin -- six years after surgery following a heart attack.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; editing by Clare Fallon)
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