Road race a rare chance for fans
Richard Carapaz of Ecuador produced a powerful late burst after six-hour slog to win gold in a thrilling Olympic men's road race as favourite Tadej Pogacar was beaten into third place at the Fuji International Speedway on Saturday.
As expected, Slovenian Pogacar launched his assault for victory on the fearsome Mikuni Pass, a brutal climb around 35 km (22 miles) from the end of a 234km race ridden in hot and humid conditions.
But the Tour de France champion had not counted on the fire within a renowned mountain specialist who prepared himself for the season - and a race route described as one of the hardest in Olympic history with almost 5,000m of climbing - by training on the Cotopaxi Volcano in the Andes.
The Tokyo Olympics will go down in history as a Games almost devoid of spectators, but cycling fans on Saturday got the rare chance to see the athletes in person on the first day of full-fledged competition.
With the Japanese capital in its fourth COVID-19 state of emergency as infections surge, the organisers this month banned spectators from all but a handful of stadiums and asked the public to stay away from cycling, marathon and other outdoor events. But on the day after the opening ceremony, thousands gathered to watch the men's road race on a humid day with highs near 35 degrees Celsius. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance," said Kayoko Fujita, 38, watching with her two little boys at the finish at the Fuji International Speedway in Shizuoka prefecture. "I think it's OK if you take proper infection-control measures."
Along the 234km race - stretching from western Tokyo through three other prefectures to the base of Mt Fuji - Japanese television showed crowds packed together on the roadside cheering. A race official vainly held a sign reading, "Please refrain from spectating on the roadsides during the event."
By contrast, at the finish the masked fans remained orderly at their seats in designated zones.
Haruhiro Aoyagi, 16, applied for tickets to several events but only won the chance to see the cycling, he said as he watched with his mother.
"It's a rare opportunity so I want to enjoy it."