RIO DE JANEIRO – Team USA’s Brent Bookwalter had one of the best days of his career on Saturday, finishing 16th in the men’s road race as cycling competition got underway at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“Today put me through everything,” Bookwalter said. “I was really focused on just doing the best ride I could do today and being the best Brent Bookwalter there was, and on leaving it all out on the road, and I’m proud that I could do that.”
It was an epic, grueling day of racing that saw Bookwalter gut it out until the very end when he outsprinted a group of five at the finish for his 16th place result.
After six hours on the grueling 241.5-kilometer course, the medals were decided on the technical downhill portion of the Vista Chinesa circuit when Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) and Sergio Henao (Colombia) crashed out of their lead group of three, leaving only Poland’s Rafal Majka on the front by himself with 10k to go.
Greg Van Avermaet (Belgium) and Jakob Fuglsang (Denmark) went off the front of the chase group, which was about 20 seconds back, and bridged to the solo leader to form an exhausted trio in the final kilometers. With about 200 meters to the finish, Van Avermaet made his move and won the sprint for gold. Fuglsang finished for the silver and Majka got the bronze.
Bookwalter crossed the line about three-and-a-half minutes later after winning a five-man sprint against Bauke Mollema (NED), Kristijan Durasek (CRO), Sebastien Reichenbach (SUI), and Frank Schleck (LUX).
“Before the race I was talking to Connie, Taylor Phinney’s mom, and I asked her what Olympic advice she had for me based on her own Olympic experience,” Bookwalter said. “She said to race to the line because it’s the Olympics. It’s a one day race. That place is attached to your name for the rest of your life, and whether it’s the podium or sixth place, or 45th instead of 50th, you deserve to get every place out of that performance that you can. So I thought of that. I didn’t have the legs to be one group further up but I was able to take a breath and sprint at the end. I have no regrets. I won’t look back now and say I could have been 16th and instead was 21st. I know I really did the best I could.”
Bookwalter’s teammate in the road race, Taylor Phinney, made the difficult decision to pull out of the brutal contest just after the first of three laps.
“It was a tough decision but I ultimately came to the conclusion that I’m here to try to win a medal in the time trial and I’m not here just for the Olympic experience,” Phinney said. “So the best thing that I could have done today was pull out of the race when I did.”
Both Phinney and Bookwalter will race the time trial on Wednesday.
Olympic road racing continues on Sunday as Mara Abbott, Kristin Armstrong, Megan Guarnier and Evelyn Stevens will compete in the women’s 141-kilometer road race, which is set to begin at 7:15 a.m. ET.
Photos by Rob Jones/Canadian Cyclist/USA Cycling