Swiss Fabian Cancellara rode off into a golden retirement with a second Olympic time trial title after a masterful ride that eclipsed Tour de France champion Chris Froome on Wednesday.
Froome had been fancied for victory on a hilly 54.5km circuit that looked made for the Briton, but Cancellara, the man they call Spartacus, was in a league of his own as he nailed the last time trial of his 16-year career.
The 35-year-old burst out of the ocean-side start ramp, put down a blistering first 10km in damp conditions more in keeping with a rainy day in Flanders, then held firm on two sharp climbs before blasting to the finish to win by 47 seconds.
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, whose place had been in jeopardy after breaking his wrist on the Tour de France, was second.
Froome, hoping to emulate compatriot Bradley Wiggins in 2012 by winning the Tour de France and Olympic gold in the space of weeks, paid for a sluggish start.
However, the British rider took bronze, 62 seconds back, repeating his performance from the event at London 2012.
“I’m chuffed (pleased) to win another Olympic medal,” Froome told reporters as rain poured down. “I gave it everything I had out there today, but Fabian was unbeatable.”
There was frustration for Australian Rohan Dennis who needed a bike change during the race, ultimately costing him a medal as he finished fifth, eight seconds behind Froome.
Cancellara pulled out of the Tour de France after the 17th stage to conserve his energy for Brazil.
And it proved a wise move as he added to his 2008 victory in Beijing, matching the feat of Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov, who won the Olympic time trial in 2000 and 2004.
“This was the last time for me to try to win an Olympic medal. It means so much to me,” Cancellara, who categorically ruled out changing his mind about retirement at the end of the year, told reporters.
“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.”
Surprisingly, Dumoulin’s silver was the first ever medal in an Olympic time trial by a Dutch rider.
“I had one goal today, and that was gold. So to not win it is a disappointment,” he said.
“But to reach the Olympic podium is something special, especially after the injury I had at the Tour de France.”