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Olympics: Stay safe for success in cycling

Belgian cyclist van Avermaet strikes gold in accident-filled road race

Risk is part of the Olympic contest for Greg van Avermaet, who won a crash-filled Rio Games cycling road race yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Italian Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali crashed on a high-speed descent 12 kilometres from the end and broke his collar bone.

Colombia's Sergio Henao suffered a fractured pelvis and Britain's Geraint Thomas also fell on the downhill.

Amid heat, bone-jarring cobblestones that van Avermaet is a specialist in, and wind, only 63 of the 144 starters finished the race.

The Belgian took advantage of Nibali and Henao's falls to record his surprise gold medal.

"Everybody wanted to win. If you want to go for the win, everybody takes some risk and maybe some go over the limit," said van Avermaet, who took the tricky descent of the Vista Chinesa with a little more caution.

"The roads were okay but, if you go too fast sometimes, you can't take the corner.

"I was happy to stay safe... I took a little bit of risk, but not too much. Nowadays, you go full gas, faster and faster and you take some risk."

It was a stunning victory for the 31-year-old, who is enjoying the best season of his career.

He won a Tour de France stage last month and wore the race leader's yellow jersey for three days as well.

He was also a surprise winner of the week-long Tirreno-Adriatico stage race, although that was due to the race's only mountain stage being cancelled because of bad weather.

But winning a gold medal topped the lot.

"The yellow jersey was something really special for me in the biggest race in the world," he said.

"If you love sport, you want to be the best - in the (Olympic) Village with all these athletes, it's a special feeling."


Van Avermaet has followed in his family's footsteps in cycling, as his father was also a professional.

"He went to the Olympics in Moscow (1980) as a road cyclist also," said van Avermaet.

But the son nearly took another path, as he was a talented goalkeeper and played for the Beveren Under-23 team until he was 18.

"I was a football player - a goalkeeper - before in Beveren," he revealed. "I was in the National (U-23) Premier League in Belgium. I had some good characteristics."

But van Avermaet said he has no regrets about the path he chose.

"I don't think so - I love football, I try to follow it as much as possible, but cycling is the sport I prefer," he said. 
- AFP.