Spain's Samuel Sanchez took the gold medal in the Olympic cycling men's road race Saturday, winning a sprint finish of six riders at the end of a gruelling course.
|Samuel Sanchez takes his country's first gold medal [GALLO/GETTY]
Davide Rebellin of Italy, who had attacked regularly throughout the day, took silver on his 37th birthday.
Time-trial world champion Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland won the bronze.
The conditions were hot and humid, and more than 30 riders abandoned the
race before the end.
"It was just a real war of attrition today,'' said Michael Rogers of Australia, who lost out in the sprint and finished sixth.
The extremely strong Spanish and Italian teams worked tirelessly throughout the race to pull back a series of breakaways, but there was no success for defending champion Paolo Bettini of Italy, who came in 18th, 35 seconds back.
Two riders, Patricio Almonacid of Chile and Horacio Gallardo of Bolivia, broke away in the second kilometer and at one point had a lead of more than 15 minutes.
Almonacid held out until five laps from the end but was then caught.
Later, Yaroslav Pidgorny of Ukraine and Aliaksandr Kuchynski of Belarus had a
try, as did Austrian Christian Pfannberger. All were caught.
The decisive break came in the final lap, when Andy Schleck of Luxembourg took the initiative and was joined by four other men.
Only Cancellara was able to bridge the gap between the leaders and the chasing group, and was rewarded with the bronze medal.
Schleck had to settle for fifth.
Many of the riders who are targeting Wednesday's time-trial pulled out before the end, including Stefan Schumacher of Germany.
A total of 143 competitors from 54 countries left the start line in central Beijing for Saturday's 245.4-kilometre race that took them past Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City and other landmarks before they rode out of the city for seven punishing laps of a hilly loop course between two points on the Great Wall.