Italy’s Elia Viviani produced a show of resilience, stamina and spirit in the sixth and final element of the men’s omnium, the points race, to win gold.
The multi-race omnium is the ultimate test of the track cyclist, requiring the competitors to demonstrate both sprinting prowess and endurance, as well as tactical acumen. Consisting of six races, with points awarded depending on where riders place in each event, only the most consistent riders have a chance of making the podium at the end of the two days. And in Rio, it was Viviani who proved the most consistent, finishing in the top three in five events as he beat back strong challenges from Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish and Lasse Norman Hansen from Denmark.
After the first day, Frenchman Thomas Boudat topped the standings after the scratch race, 4km individual time trial and elimination race with eventual gold medallist Viviani in second spot, two points behind. Defending Olympic champion Lasse Norman Hansen had looked impressive, winning the 60-lap scratch race and setting a new Olympic record in the 4km individual pursuit to have maximum points after two events. But he dropped out first in the elimination race and was sixth going into the second day.
In the time trial, the first challenge of the second day, Viviani's time of 57.749 seconds was good enough for third of 17 starters, the best among the medal contenders. After the time trial and the flying lap, going into the points race, where riders contest a sprint every 10 laps to claim points, Viviani was in the lead.
The Italian went into the final challenge, the points race, where riders contest a sprint every 10 laps to score points, 16 points ahead of second-placed Cavendish. However, the British cyclist, a time trial specialist, was the field’s strongest sprinter and looked well placed to overhaul him.
Viviani’s title hopes seemed to have vanished after a collision. The Italian was unmounted when Cavendish clipped wheels with the Republic of Korea’s Park Sanghoon. But he got back in the saddle and as soon back in the mix, holding his ground against Hansen, who lapped the field, and Cavendish, who battled for the sprints. He recovered to complete the 160-lap race, and seal overall victory. In tears, he grabbed an Italian tricolore for a lap of honour.
“It was the race of my life,” an emotional Viviani said. “The omnium is difficult because after five races we are all the same, the points race is the most difficult. It is a really tactical race, 160 laps. At every sprint I knew I needed to gain points so I tried. With two sprints to the finish I knew I had to go really hard in one of them to get the points I needed. I felt nothing in my legs for the last 20 laps.”
Cavendish, who has 30 Tour de France stage wins – the second most in history – claimed the Olympic medal he had been chasing since 2008. And the man known as the “Manx Missile” was delighted to end the hunt, while acknowledging that his Italian opponent was a worthy winner: “I gave everything I had, I couldn't give any more, so I have to be happy,” said Cavendish. “Elia was strongest across all races, so hats off to the winner.”