Copacabana - from beach to cycling venue

Copacabana district of Rio de Janeiro was very much the focus between 15 and 23 August as three more sports - sailing, cycling and open water swimming - staged test events as part of their preparations for the 2016 Games.

Picture by Getty Images

On the road, French rider Alexis Vuillermoz who made his name a month early by winning stage 8 of the 2015 Tour de France, showed that was no fluke as he won the Aquece Rio International Road Cycling Challenge.

The 27-year old claimed victory in the 165km dress rehearsal for Rio 2016 ahead of Belgium’s Serge Pauwels, and fellow Frenchman Romain Bardet. It was a successful day for the French, who had three other riders in the top 10.

Vuillermoz was delighted with his victory, which boosts his hopes of making the French team for Rio, though he knows he faces stiff competition.

"It is always a special moment,” said the Frenchman. “I didn’t win during my first year on the road and this year I have won three times, it's a very nice season. But we must remain cautious. This was not the World Tour or the Olympics. It gives us confidence even though I know that there is still some work to compete with the best.”

Meanwhile, the Rio 2016 sailing courses were put through their paces on 15-22 August as the Guanabara Bay staged the Aquece Rio International Regatta, with a full programme of racing featuring all 10 events that will be contested at the Games next year.

Australian cousins Jason Waterhouse and Lisa Darmanin claimed gold in the Nacra 17 with a complete performance across the 12 race series.

The Australians finished every race within the top eight and their consistency proved to be invaluable as they defeated France's Billy Besson and Marie Riou by five points.

“This has been a really tricky week and we are super stoked,” beamed Waterhouse. “I'm so proud of my cousin Lisa and we've been working to do this together for about eight years now and there's one more goal in mind and that's where we are heading. This is just an awesome way to end it with one year to go.”

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British sailor Giles Scott continued a two-year unbeaten streak and made it two test events out of two with victory in the Finn class. Scott held his nerve during a tense finale to overcome Dutch rival Pieter Jan Postma who had held the lead going into the medal race.

Italy’s Francesco Marrai – a rank outsider going into the competition - took gold in the Laser class, booking his place at next year’s Games in the process. “I'm very happy right now, it's quite a new situation for me and I cannot show much emotion but this is very big for me,” he said after his surprise victory.

Lithuania's Gintare Scheidt won the Laser Radial and her thoughts turned immediately to her son back home. “It's a good present for my son who is six years old today. He's in Lithuania with my mother but he's always cheering for me and saying to me, 'mummy you're sailing so good, keep it going'.”

Peter Burling and Blair Tuke of New Zealand confirmed their status as the world’s best 49er exponents with a consummate winning performance which saw them finish outside the top eight in just one of the 11 races. Tuke said the competition provided the ideal platform for the Games proper next year. “That's been really good for us. We have a lot of little things and tricks you learn from sailing in the bay and just how we prepare as well with our coach and support staff. We've learnt a lot this week, not just from the results but a lot of other things and we're happy with how it's played out over the last three weeks in Rio.”

Martine Grael and Kahena Kunze (BRA) gave home fans plenty to cheer by coming from behind to clinch a memorable gold in the 49erFX. The Brazilians overcame a nine-point deficit from Italy’s Giulia Conti and Francesca Clapcich, and were delighted with their finale. "It was quite a tricky race,” admitted de Grael. “We pulled out a very nice last downwind and we managed to get enough points to win from the Italians. I don't think it could have ended better.”

The USA’s Anne Haeger and Briana Provancha (USA) claimed gold in the Women's 470 after overnight leaders Hannah Mills and Saskia Clark of Great Britain were penalised. A fourth-place finish in the medal race was enough to give the Americans a seven-point lead on their nearest rivals, who won silver at London 2012.

A tightly contested men’s 470 saw several teams in with a chance of gold going into the final medal race. However, Australian duo Mat Belcher and Will Ryan held their nerve to overhaul leaders Sime Fantela and Igor Marenic of Croatia, and win their second Olympic test event in a row. “This is a really good stepping stone for us,” said Belcher. “There's a lot of work to do but we're pretty happy with how we're going.”

Staying on the water, on 23 August, the Fort Copacabana venue staged the Aquece Rio International Marathon Swimming Event, the test event for the open water swimmers at Rio 2016. The women’s race was won by double world champion Keri-Anne Payne of Great Britain, who finished ahead of local contender Ana Marcela Cunha, with Isabelle Harle of Germany third.

The 27-year-old Payne, who won Olympic silver at Beijing 2008, but finished just off the podium on home waters at the London Games four years later, represents, was delighted with her victory, tweeting “Pretty good day in the office! I absolutely love Rio and loved swimming in the Copacabana”

In the men’s event a day earlier, Brazilian swimmer Allan do Carmo held off a late challenge from Japan’s Yasunari Hirai. Do Carmo finished the 10km course in 2 hours 03 minutes 53 seconds, just one second ahead of Hirai. Third place went to Richard Weinberger of Canada who crossed the line in 2:03.57.

“The competition was tight and the conditions in the sea, rough as it was, made it even more difficult,” do Carmo said. “In these conditions, you have to have a really good sense of direction, but that’s one of my main skills.”