• Ecstasy and agony... When Olympic road champion Anna van der Breggen passed her fallen team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten, she said "I thought she was dead". (Tim de Waele/Getty Images)Source: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Was the Olympic road race course a recipe for disaster like some observed, or an organisational masterstroke that surpassed expectations?
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Cycling Central
8 Aug 2016 - 7:26 PM  UPDATED 8 Aug 2016 - 7:49 PM

When you see a number of likely medal contenders - make that gold medal contenders - crash out on consecutive days on the same descent, some in almost the same place, it seems the natural reaction is to blame the course.

While many commentators including Chris Boardman have done just that ("We knew this was way past this being technical, this was dangerous," he told the BBC), it's interesting that the ones who suffered most - namely, Sergio Henao, Vincenzo Nibali, Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Annemiek van Vleuten - especially her - have not blamed the course or the Rio organisers. (Not that I've seen, anyway.)

I, for one, thought the course for the men's and women's road race was superb, both from an aesthetic and athletic viewpoint, as did my colleague Michael Tomalaris, writing on Cycling Central's Facebook page after the men's event: "Best Olympics RR ever. So entertaining, unpredictable and picturesque."

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Richie Porte (Australia) was right in contention for the Olympic Road Race but he crashed on the second descent from the Vista Chinesa. Fracturing his scapula, Porte will not be able to front up for the time trial on the 10th August 2016.
Van Avermaet claims gold in wildly entertaining Olympics road race
Greg van Avermaet (Belgium) won a scintillating edition of the Olympics Road Race, with the race on a knife's edge for the final three circuits of the course.

Just like the Tour de France or Giro d'Italia does, the Olympic road races exhibited all that is beautiful, beguiling, challenging, and yes, sometimes dangerous, about our sport. What other event at this Games can showcase the beauty that is Rio like what you saw last weekend? Certainly not the swimming; it could be in Vladivostok for all we know...

"They were all pushing those aforementioned limits on a section/s they knew required a high degree of caution. As such, the line between making it and breaking it becomes ever slimmer."

The thing is, under race conditions, and particularly when there's so much at stake, any course can be dangerous. At this level, we are witnessing athletes pushing both bikes and bodies to their absolute limits, and in some cases, beyond. Organisers held a test event last August (participating nations included Australia, Belgium, France and Great Britain); on separate occasions, several teams came out to do their own recons; and riders were able to familiarise themselves with the course prior to race day.

While the riders that crashed are certainly no mugs when it comes to going downhill, on the descent in question, they were all pushing those aforementioned limits on a section/s they knew required a high degree of caution. As such, the line between making it and, well, breaking it, becomes ever slimmer.

I really feel for those who fell, particularly Henao, Porte and van Vleuten (you'd have to be heartless not to), and while I did not see the line the former two took that saw them come unstuck, multiple replays of the Dutchwomen's crash off the Vista Chinesa showed Annemiek van Vleuten was not only going too fast, but that she was taking what appeared to be completely the wrong line.

Van der Breggen takes gold for the Netherlands after nasty crash mars dramatic finish
It was mixed emotions in a dramatic finale to the womens Olympic road race after race leader Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) crashed out on the final descent, with her countrywoman, Anna van der Breggen taking the victory.

It's also worth mentioning that on both days, the overwhelming majority made it through unscathed and there was no mass pile-up/s, meaning that, generally speaking, those who did not crash exercised a higher degree of caution than those who did. Nibali is well-known for his daredevil descending and throwing his bike around corners at seemingly impossible speeds; it seemed only a matter of time before something like this befell him.

Praising her resilience, Van Vleuten's Orica-AIS trade team buddy, Gracie Elvin said: "She's a tough girl, she's had some pretty big things happen to her in her life and I think she can bounce back from this. She's one of the most positive people on our team."

Fairfax journalist in Rio, Samantha Lane, wrote in her report from the women's race Sunday: "To a man and woman from the Australian camp – Simon Clarke and Scott Bowden on Saturday, Amanda Spratt, Rachel Neylan and Elvin on Sunday – a tough course was all part and parcel of bike racing.

"Just like the crashing," she quipped.

I wish those affected a speedy recovery.

Was the Rio Games road race course too dangerous?
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