Cycling: Sagan deflated as hopes of cross-country medal vanish
By Martyn Herman
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Peter Sagan's hopes of winning a surprise gold medal in the Olympic mountain bike cross-country race disappeared along with the air escaping from his tyres on Sunday.
The Slovak, a giant of the road where he won the world title last year and claimed a fifth consecutive Tour de France points jersey last month, gambled on returning to his mountain bike passion, rather than race on the road on opening Saturday.
But after waiting until the 15th day of action to try and make his mark on the Games, his challenge was effectively over inside the first 20 minutes of the race.
Starting last of the 49 riders because of his low Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) ranking in mountain bikes, Sagan sliced through the field and was already in the leading group of five early in the first of seven laps of the muddy 4.8km circuit.
A fascinating and eagerly-anticipated battle between the one-day road specialist and dirt warriors like eventual winner Nino Schurter, Julien Absalon and Jaroslav Kulhavy looked to be brewing in the Rio hills.
Then the all too familiar hiss, the bugbear of recreational cyclists, spelt trouble.
His first puncture cost Sagan two and a half minutes as he rode on for half a lap before reaching the technical zone with his front tire flapping around the rim.
With a new wheel on he tried to make up some ground but another puncture following a small tumble left him simply making up the numbers. At one point he was even forced to carry his bike up a rocky climb. Continued...