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Tokyo Olympics: 12 riders to watch in the women's road race

Anna van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma will contend in the road race at Tokyo Olympic Games
Anna van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma will contend in the road race at Tokyo Olympic Games (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

A small but world-class 67-rider peloton will line up to contest the elite women's road race at the Tokyo Olympic Games on Sunday. 

Defending champion Anna van der Breggen and the powerful Dutch team are the outright favourites to win but there are a handful of riders who could disrupt their plans and ride away with the glory and the gold medal.

The elite women's 137km road race will start from Musashinonomori Park and end at the Fuji International Speedway. The women's course will include mid-race climbs over Donushi Road and Kagosaka Pass, and there will be 2,692 metres of elevation gain, before a punchy final at the speedway.

Cyclingnews highlights 12 riders to watch for the medals in the elite women's road race at the Tokyo Olympics.

Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands)

The double world champion lines up as the defending champion for the women's road race and the outright favourite to win a second consecutive gold medal. She has had a stellar season that includes winning a record seventh Flèche Wallonne and a fourth overall title at the Giro d'Italia Donne. 

It’s a course tailor-made for van der Breggen with extensive mid-race climbing followed by a punchy finale, and she excels in all-scenarios from solo attacks to breakaways to group sprints. She is scheduled to retire at the end of 2021 and she aims to set the highest possible standard in her final season as a professional before transitioning into a sport director for her trade team SD Worx. 

What she said: This feels a bit like the last highlight. We come to win. I don't think we're really satisfied with less, but it's going to be difficult enough to achieve it. [Nos]

Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain)

Great Britain's Lizzie Deignan enjoyed the home support in Yorkshire during the elite women's road race at the 2019 World Championships

Lizzie Deignan of Great Britain (Image credit: Getty Images)

Deignan has stated two primary targets this year: Tokyo Olympic Games and World Championships. Illness left her spring campaign in tatters but Deignan came back with an overall victory at Tour de Suisse. She was then part of the Trek-Segafredo team at the Giro d'Italia Donne that won the opening team time trial, and she was eighth in the uphill individual time trial, second place on stage 10, and fourth overall. 

To put that into perspective, Deignan was the next in line at the mountainous 10-day race behind the dominant SD Worx team that swept the podium with overall winner  Anna van der Breggen, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Demi Vollering. This bodes well for her ambitions at the Tokyo Olympics, with newfound climbing legs and a fast sprint, and a solid teammate in Anna Shackley, Deignan is a contender for the gold medal.

What she said: Two riders means that we're underdogs, which is not a bad position to be in. The pressure of the race doesn't lie on our shoulders. We can just be opportunistic and race with nothing to lose and I think if you're trying to become Olympic champion, you have to race as though you're not afraid to lose because it's such a unique race tactically. [Cyclingnews]

Lisa Brennauer (Germany)

She has been one  of the most consistent riders of the last two seasons. A  former world time trial champion, Brennauer has stamina, power, and impeccable late-race tactics. This year, she was third at Gent-Wevelgem and second at the Tour of Flanders. When she decides to roll the dice in the last one or two kilometres of a race, there are few riders with the strength to reel her back in. Always an opportunist in the latter stages of a race, watch for Brennauer to do everything she can to stick with the climbers on the mid-race, and then attack in the final toward the Fuji speedway.

What she said: I’m proud to be selected for my third Olympic Games with Team Deutschland. Happy to be part of Tokyo 2020. Thanks for supporting me on my journey! [Twitter]

Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)

She heads in the Tokyo Olympics as Italy’s best shot at a medal. She won the bronze medal in Rio 2016, and has been preparing for these games with an all-or-nothing racing style this season that has netted her victories at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, National Championships and podiums at Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. It's this style of racing that will be valuable in any nation’s attempt to beat the dominant Dutch team. 

She was sightly off at the recent Giro d'Italia Donne, but after 10 days of recovery, she is ready with a support team of Marta Cavalli, Marta Bastianelli and Soraya Paladin.

What she said: If you prepare yourself, if you believe in what you do, you don't need to be a Superhero to get on the podium: you just have to try hard. I will fight to the end. [SkySport Italy]

Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland)

She was just 22 years old when she first competed at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and finished 6th place. Niewiadoma said that a lot has changed in the five intervening years and that maturity, as well as feeling refreshed and motivated, will help her in her pursuit for a medal this time around. 

This year she was fourth at Trofeo Alfredo Binda, second at Dwars door Vlaanderen and Flèche Wallonne, fourth at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 10th at Vuelta a Burgos and sixth at La Course. She also skipped the Giro Donne and instead raced Baloise Belgium Tour to gain high-end speed and a spark of pure motivation ahead of Tokyo Olympic Games.

What she said: I need to try to deliver it. I'm ready, hungry for racing and winning. Anything is possible, and I dream about the big results. [Cyclingnews]

Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa)

Her insider knowledge of the Dutch team could be an advantage for Moolman-Pasio, who has been teammates with all four at various points during her career. Fresh off of her first victory at the Giro Donne, on the queen stage  9 summit of Monte Matajur, Moolman-Pasio is primed for success on the hilly route of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

She will have one teammate on the start line, but if she queues off of her current SD Worx trade teammates Anna van der Breggen and Demi Vollering over the mountains, she could find herself in a medal-position at the Fuji International Speedway.

What she said : Of course, it does help. We got to know each other really well because when you race week-in and week-out together, you learn a lot about each other as riders; weaknesses and strengths. The same exists for them as well. They have insight into me as a rider, too. I see it as an advantage and I'll need to lean on every bit of knowledge and instinct to get a result. [Cyclingnews]

Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands)

Road World Championships Imola 2020 - Women Elite Road Race - Imola - Imola 143 km - 26/09/2020 - Annemiek Van Vleuten (Netherlands / Team Mitchelton Scott) - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2020

Annemiek van Vleuten of Netherlands (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Van Vleuten will be competing in her third Olympic Games after racing in 2012 London and 2016 Rio de Janeiro, where she was involved in a horrific, high-speed crash on the final descent while leading the race that left her recovering from a severe concussion and three small fractures in her lower back. She is not looking for redemption at this Olympic Games, but she is looking for the gold medal. 

Winner of the Tour of Flanders earlier this spring, she then skipped the Giro d'Italia Donne to focus on the Olympics. Van Vleuten said she spent time training at altitude in Italy and part of that training included turbo sessions in a climate room that helped her adjust to the expected heat and humidity in Tokyo. 

What she said: I’m pretty excited for the racing to begin, and I have a good level of confidence heading into Tokyo. The work is done. Now it's time to use my legs. I'm mentally ready to suffer during two very big and beautiful events; the road race and the time trial at the Tokyo Olympic Games. [Cyclingnews]

Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark)

Ruled out of the Giro Donne due to a crash in the opening team time trial, Uttrup Ludwig has recovered and ready to contest a medal in Tokyo. The hilly course is suited to her characteristics as a hilly Classics rider, who this year,  has finished in the top 10 at Strade Bianche, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. She went on to claim her first Women's WorldTour win at Vuelta a Burgos and then finished second at La Course. She lines up with teammate Emma Norsgaard for a powerful duo to contest the 136km course.

What she said: The danish dynamite duo are absolutely thrilled to represent our country on Sunday at the biggest sport event in the world. The wait is almost over. [Twitter]

Grace Brown (Australia)

Road World Championships Imola 2020 Women Elite Road Race Imola Imola 143 km 26092020 Grace Brown Australia photo Ilario BiondiBettiniPhoto2020

Grace Brown of Australia  (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

She has stated that Australia is not racing for second place at the Tokyo Olympics. Brown, along with her teammates Amanda Spratt and Sarah Gigante led by on-road captain Tiffany Cromwell, are in good position to play for a medal. While Spratt and Gigante might be the stronger climbers, Brown has the perfect combination of power and punch for this occasion. 

She won Brugge-De Panne and finished third at Tour of Flanders earlier in the year, and recently finished third in the mountain time trial at the Giro Donne. Watch for Brown to contest the climbs and perhaps steal a late-race breakaway at the Fuji International Speedway.

What she said: We've got a great team and we can compete against the Netherlands. The combination of strength, the experience and everything on our team is going to make us really strong and it's not like we're racing for second. I think that we do have the option to race for the gold medal, which is pretty cool. [Cyclingnews]

Demi Vollering (Netherlands)

The cycling world has witnessed the rise of Demi Vollering during her debut with trade team SD Worx. Under the guidance of van der Breggen, Vollering has excelled on climbs and in small group sprints to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège, La Course and finished third overall at the Giro Donne. She and her teammate Marianne Vos, who won Amstel Gold Race and Gent-Wevelgem this spring before capturing a remarkable 30th career stage win at the Giro Donne, will be key riders to watch in a reduced group sprint. 

She might be the newest member of the Dutch team but she is on a world-class trajectory that could see her take over from  van der Breggen as the next gold medal winner in Tokyo.

What she said: I had a dream, the same dream I had as a little kid. But this time my dream was touchable, I was on the Olympics racing my bike. And now this dream will come true! [Instagram]

Amanda Spratt (Australia)

Australia has a powerful four-rider team and they intend to rival the Dutch for a gold medal. At the  start of this Olympic cycle, Spratt was an out-right favourite to medal in Tokyo. She’s had two strong showings while leading her national at the World Championships; second in Innsbruck 2018 and third in Harrogate 2019, while also finishing third overall at the Giro d’Italia Donne in both years. 

She’s faced some challenges in the last two seasons, including crashes at the Giro Donne last year and this year, however, Spratt can never be counted out at a major event. Watch for a comeback at the Olympic Games.

What she said: We have a strong team and every time we come together, we always race really well as an Aussie unit. To me it's exciting that we're going to have options. It is a numbers game and you want to be able to use every one of the riders and I think we're really going to be able to do that to play the game well. [Cyclingnews]

Mavi Garcia (Spain)

Always count on Garcia to make a race exciting straight from the gun. She will never shy away from an early breakaway and she’s not afraid to go solo and make her rivals work for their spoils. A standout moment in Garcia’s career was her long-range solo breakaway at 2020 Strade Bianche that almost  netted her the win, only to be caught by Annemiek van Vleuten in the closing kilometres. She’s the perfect example of a rider who isn’t afraid to grab an opportunity, and she is always willing to lose in order to win.

What she said: I tend to normalize things quite a bit, but it is true that it is not until I see myself in the situation that I start to get nervous. I know it will be a race that will make me nervous, although in my head there is only the idea of enjoying it, but I also really want to run and do well. [Marca]

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in bike racing from the grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all cycling disciplines, edits news and writes features. Currently the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten coordinates global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.