RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Greg Van Avermaet's persistence finally paid dividends on Saturday as he became cycling-mad Belgium's first Olympic road race champion since 1952.
After a career of near misses and occasional misfortune, the 31-year-old seized his chance to become a national hero in a dramatic climax to the race when leader Vincenzo Nibali crashed.
He then edged out Denmark's Jakob Fuglsang in a thrilling finish alongside the Copacabana.
"I fell just short so often. I missed out in the end so often," Van Avermaet told reporters at the finish line.
"This makes up for everything."
A one-day specialist, Van Avermaet was third in the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix classics last year and was robbed of victory in the San Sebastian Classic when he was involved in an accident with a television motorbike while leading.
He broke his collarbone earlier this year but recovered to win stage five of the Tour de France and briefly wear the coveted yellow jersey.
Until Saturday, however, he was destined to be one of the nearly men of the sport.
In matching the Helsinki feat of Andre Noyelle in 1952 he will now go down in Belgium sporting folklore.
"The highlight of my career," Van Avermaet said after the victory ceremony. "It's not going to get any better.
"I am so happy for gold. Everyone said all week it was for everyone else." (Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Bill Rigby)