Geraint Thomas claimed a superb gold for Wales despite a heart-stopping late puncture in a thrilling men’s road race at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Thomas, who won bronze in Thursday’s time trial, attacked from a three-man group early on the final lap of the 168km race and quickly distanced England’s Scott Thwaites and New Zealand’s Jack Bauer.
The 28-year-old established what looked to be a race-winning advantage but suffered a late puncture, only to retain enough of his lead to solo to a popular victory for a rider who so frequently sacrifices his own chances for the success of others with Team Sky.
Meanwhile, Bauer and Thwaites, who both rode on the UK domestic circuit with Team Endura, came to the finish together and the Kiwi outsprinted the Englishman to settle the final two podium places.
Thomas, who will carry the flag for Wales at the closing ceremony, said: “Winning is unbelievable. I never expected it. Coming off the Tour de France, I was tired at end of that. I thought it would be a massive challenge to get a result here but the motivation was there.
“I was buzzing to compete for Team Wales. I just got stuck in and it couldn’t have got any better. Carrying the flag tonight will be a massive honour. That is just as good as winning a race and that means a lot to me and my family.
“That was such a grim day. To be honest, I felt terrible at the start. I was thinking of just stopping I felt that bad. Everyone else seemed to come down to my level then.
“I was surprised how easily I went away. When I had the puncture I thought ‘what have I got to do?’ but fortunately I had a decent enough gap to stay in front. It was a good day in the end.”
Peter Kennaugh, riding for the Isle of Man, set the tone for what proved to be a brutal race of attrition, which eventually saw only 12 riders finish, by attacking early on the first of 12 laps of a punchy 14km circuit also used for the 2013 British national road race championships.
Kennaugh finished fourth on that day, behind eventual winner and fellow Manxman Mark Cavendish, who, having been forced to miss the Commonwealth Games as a result of the crash which him leave the Tour de France after the first stage, took his place in the Isle of Man team car in the role of directeur sportif.
Kennaugh was left out of Team Sky’s Tour de France squad but has since won the 2014 British national road race title and the Tour of Austria, and took to the start line of today’s race as the favourite.
As a result, Kennaugh’s bold early move raised eyebrows and the 25-year-old may have expected company after making his attack but no riders jumped from the peloton to join him, leaving Kennaugh to forge a lone path, opening up a lead which topped out at around two minutes.
Australia arrived in Glasgow with a strong six-man team, led by sprinter Mark Renshaw, and they took up pace-making duties at the front of a peloton quickly being reduced in size by the pace of the race and the ever-worsening weather conditions, with heavy rain falling on the technical circuit throughout the race.
Rohan Dennis, who won silver behind England’s Alex Dowsett in the time trial, did much of the early work for Australia but the 24-year-old, who has just made a mid-season transfer from Garmin-Sharp to BMC Racing, crashed out on a slippery corner to start a sequence of bad luck for the Australians, which later saw Renshaw suffer an ill-timed mechanical.
Kennaugh continued to ride on and it was only when New Zealand’s Shane Archbold came to the front that the leader’s advantage began to fall significantly.
That signaled the beginning of the end for Kennaugh’s brave effort, though his time out front had served to severely weaken the resolve of the chasing pack, and when Thomas, Bauer and Thwaites attacked from the dwindling peloton, they quickly caught the Manxman and subsequently dropped him on the short but steep climb of George Street.
The trio worked well together to open up a significant lead over the chasers and came into the final lap all but sure of the medals and Thomas soon signaled his intent for gold with an attack on a short rise which left Thwaites and Bauer standing.
Thomas looked set for victory – one week after recording his best-ever Tour de France finish in 22nd and two years to the day since winning his second Olympic team pursuit title on the track at London 2012 – from the first pedal revolution of that attack and quickly opened up a lead approaching one minute.
However, with just over five kilometres remaining, Thomas, who earlier in the race had suffered a mechanical which required him to chase back on to the peloton, was left standing at the roadside for nearly 30 seconds as he waited for his front wheel to be changed by the neutral service motorbike.
News of Thomas’ puncture failed to filter back to Thwaites and Bauer, and if it had the duo may have made more of their chase, but Thomas still had a lead of 20 seconds as he set off once again in pursuit for only his nation’s third cycling gold medal in the history of the Commonwealth Games.
And Thomas pointed to his red, green and white jersey as he crossed the line to cap a superb team performance by Wales which also Luke Rowe and rising star Scott Davies also finish in the top ten.