OYAMA TOWN, Japan (Reuters) -Primoz Roglic shrugged off Tour de France disappointment to claim Slovenia’s first-ever Olympic cycling gold medal on Wednesday with a perfectly-executed ride in the road time trial.
The 31-year-old former international ski jumper flew around the 44.1km route at the Fuji Speedway in 55:04.
His time was just over a minute faster than Dutchman Tom Dumoulin who took TT silver for the second games in a row.
“I didn’t even know a week before coming here that I would definitely be here,” said Roglic, after bettering the bronze medal of team mate Tadej Pogacar in Saturday’s road race.
Roglic, who abandoned the Tour after stage eight after being caught up in several crashes, added: “I thought if I go, always something can happen. I’m super proud and happy with today’s performance. It has not been the best season for me, but this is a nice present.”
Dumoulin looked set to quit the sport early this year after admitting he had become “a little lost” and did not ride his bike from January until May while he considered his future.
But having re-discovered his love of cycling, he returned and set the Olympics as a target.
His second place, 61 seconds behind his Jumbo-Visma team mate, matched his finish in Rio.
“Silver is beautiful,” Dumoulin said. “I overtrained in the winter and was quite down mentally.
“I came back and found out that I still loved to ride and could aim for big goals – especially this event. Primoz was on another planet today.”
Former time trial world champion Rohan Dennis of Australia was third, a further two seconds slower and just 0.4 seconds faster than Swiss Stefan Kueng.
It was a desperately disappointing day for pre-race favourite Filippo Ganna who finished fifth.
Reigning world champion Ganna, the last of the 39 riders to roll down the start ramp, went off in scorching fashion and was 59 seconds faster than Roglic at the 9km checkpoint.
But the Italian paid for that pace on a hilly course featuring 846 metres of climbing and his advantage leaked away steadily to leave him deflated.
While Roglic romped to gold, the battle for the minor medals was fierce with only 4.3 seconds between Dumoulin and Ganna.
“It was more like a dogfight, especially the second lap,” said Dennis, who became only the second Australian cyclist to win a medal in both Olympic track and road racing, having won a team pursuit silver in London in 2012.
“I thought Ganna was going to take (the bronze) off me. I didn’t know he went out that quick but I’m happy he did because that obviously hurt him later on.”
Roglic paced his race perfectly and won comfortably in the end in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the racing circuit – a stark contrast to most of the empty Tokyo 2020 venues.
The Slovenian began the Tour as one of the favourites but he was never in contention after losing time in the first week.
His decision to quit that race was partly to allow him time to focus on “other goals” one of which was clearly the Olympic gold. On Wednesday that proved to be a wise move.
“He definitely also had a setback this year, especially in the Tour,” Dumoulin told Reuters. “If there’s one person to beat me today then I am very happy that it’s Primoz, he’s just a really nice team mate. Congratulations to him.”
(Additional reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by John Stonestreet, Ed Osmond & Shri Navaratnam)