The soon-to-be Olympic champion was in what cyclists derisively call “the pain cave,” empty lungs searing and legs feeling like dead weight. The climb he was on seemed interminable, the evil gradient sending him straight into the sky.
Hardly the time for Richard Carapaz to look fondly upon a near-naked man running beside him on the road.
Except … did the stoic rider from Ecuador actually crack a smile?
Indeed, he did. That same stunt that overzealous fans pull in the Alps and Pyrenees during the Tour de France, where it might annoy Carapaz to no end, was actually welcomed by him in the Olympic road race. That’s because the draconian measures taken by the organizers of the Tokyo Games to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have also prevented fans from the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see most of the world’s best athletes perform on their own soil.
Or roads, as it were.
“It gave us a sensation of somehow coming back to normality, seeing the fans there,” Carapaz said later. “I loved it.”
Technically speaking, a ban on fans for almost every event remains in place. Police and volunteer security guards are on almost constant patrol. But that hasn’t stopped many locals from catching a glimpse of the action.
On the way to the opening ceremony, thousands lined the street to cheer for the buses, even though they had no idea who was riding inside. They held up signs that read “Welcome to Tokyo,” despite public sentiment that has run strongly against the staging of the Games. When drones rose above the stadium, they were oohing and ahhing and taking pictures, just as they would have been watching their beloved Shohei Ono competing in their national pastime, Judo.
Sixty miles to the east, where surfing made its Olympic debut, fans found their way to Tsurigasaki Beach.
Starting on the first day of the three-day tournament, dozens crowded around the plastic orange fence marking the security perimeter, their revelry building throughout the day. Far off in the distance, locals could see the beach and athletes moving into the water, along with coaches, journalists and volunteers at work.