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Defying the inclement conditions with a masterful ride around the 54.5km circuit, Cancellara, who also won the event at Beijing 2008, beat Dutchman Tom Dumoulin by 47 seconds. Tour de France champion Chris Froome (GBR) came in 62 seconds back in third, the same position he occupied four years ago in London.
The winner of four time-trial world titles earlier in his career, the Swiss was only seventh at London 2012 and has seen the likes of Germany’s Tony Martin, Great Britain’s Bradley Wiggins and Dumoulin surpass him in his recent seasons.
Proving he had one big performance left in him before his retirement at the end of the year, Cancellera summoned up a storming start in damp conditions, leading at the first 10km time check. Though Rohan Dennis moved in front by the second check, at 19.7km, the Swiss came back to lead the Australian rider by almost 18 seconds at the end of the next sector, at 34.6km.
Meanwhile, pre-race favourite Dumoulin reeled in world champion Vasil Kiryienka of Belarus, who started a minute and a half before him, by the third check. The Dutchman was third at that point, 25 seconds back. Forced to change bikes, Dennis then dropped behind Dumoulin and Froome at the 44.4km checkpoint, and eventually came in fifth. Enduring no such hardships, Cancellara increased his overall lead and powered home to the finish line to take victory from Dumoulin and Froome.
“This was the last time for me to try to win an Olympic medal,” said the elated Swiss afterwards. “It means so much to me. After missing out on gold in London and all the ups and downs I’ve had since then, this is just amazing to win the gold today. Against this field, and on such a hard course, we had doubts, but good doubts. There are just no words. To leave the sport at the end of this season with the gold medal is just a perfect way to end my career. It was a big scream on the podium. This was the last big time trial of my life.”
Discussing his race strategy, the two-time Olympic champion added: “We made special planning for this race. It was important to make the right rhythm on the race. I didn’t want to go out too hard, because a one-hour time trial is very long, so you wouldn’t have anything left in the end. We paced it perfectly. I am so proud to win after all the hard work we’ve put into being ready for today.”
Reflecting on his race, Dumoulin said: “I had one goal today, and that was gold. So to not win it, of course, is a disappointment. But to reach the Olympic podium is something special, especially after the injury I had at the Tour de France. When I think about how far I have come from compared to where I was a few weeks ago, this is very nice. This was my big chance to win gold, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
“I’m chuffed to win another Olympic medal,” commented Froome, who had been hoping to emulate compatriot Bradley Wiggins’ 2012 feat of winning the Tour de France and Olympic gold in the space of a few weeks. Accentuating the positive, he added: “I can’t be disappointed, especially after the season I’ve had. I gave it everything I had out there today, but Fabian was unbeatable. After winning the Tour this summer, to be back on the Olympic podium is just amazing.”