Greg’s glorious gold: Van Avermaet wins Rio road race


Belgium’s showing in the first weekend of the Olympic Games in Rio was outstanding, with Kristin Flipkens beating Venus Williams in tennis and Greg Van Avermaet sprinting to gold in the cycling road race

Swim team breaks record

Flemish cyclist Greg Van Avermaet grabbed the gold medal in the cycling road race at the Rio Olympics, triumphing after six hours and 237 kilometres around Rio de Janeiro’s winding, cobbled hills, under a thick layer of heat. He is Belgium’s first gold medallist in an Olympics road race since 1952.

Van Avermaet and Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang caught Rafal Majka of Poland inside the final 3km, but Van Avermaet won in an exciting sprint finish. It came after favourite Vincenzo Nibali of Italy and Sergio Henao of Colombia both crashed on the final descent off the Vista Chinesa climb.

By then, even three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, and other supposedly more storied riders had been left far behind. “It went perfectly in the end, I had the legs that I needed,” a jubilant Van Avermaet said. “It was a hectic finale, but in the end, everything went well.”

The 31-year-old cyclist from Lokeren is enjoying a spectacular year in general. He came eighth in the green jersey ranking for sprinters at the Tour de France, won stage five and led the race for three days. His father, Ronald Van Avermaet, also competed in the road race at the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

There were also impressive results in Rio for Belgium’s swimming team, which came sixth in the 100m freestyle relay, notching up a national record along the way, with at time of 3:13.57.

The men’s hockey side, currently ranked sixth in the world, were just as striking, beating fourth ranked Britain 4-1 and hosts Brazil 0-12 in their opening ties.

Flemish tennis player Kirsten Flipkens, meanwhile, made worldwide headlines with her stunning first round victory, beating seven-time Grand Slam champion and four-time Olympic gold medallist Venus Williams 4-6, 6-3, 7-6. Flipkens called it “the most epic match” of her career. Yanina Wickmayer, knocked out in the first round, joined Flipkens to reach the second round in the doubles.

The only disappointment of the weekend was for 2012 judo bronze medallist Charlene Van Snick, who lost her first round tie.

Photo: Really gold: Greg Van Avermaet gets Belgium off to a good start

©Yuzuru Sunada/BELGA