Triple Olympic gold medalist in the individual time trial Kristin Armstrong called Annemiek van Vleuten's dominant victory in the Tokyo Olympics women's event on Wednesday as "on a completely different planet" but said she knew from the moment the Dutch rider launched down the start ramp that she was going to win.
Speaking to the UCI's Hannah Walker on Instagram Live, Armstrong gushed over the magnitude of Van Vleuten's victory, where she finished the relatively-short 22.1km time trial a full 56 seconds ahead of silver medalist Marlen Reusser (Switzerland) and a further five seconds over her national teammate Anna van der Breggen.
"It's beyond impressive," Armstrong said. "Putting a minute on any competitor in a time trial - I can tell you that in all the Olympics that I competed in, the margin between being on the podium and off the podium was only like 20 seconds. From first to second in Rio was five seconds, in London it was about 13 seconds (15 -ed) and I believe it was 20 seconds in Beijing. Putting a minute is on a completely different planet."
Armstrong said that Van Vleuten's ride took "grit and determination" after she crashed in the road race then bounced back to solo away from the field in what she thought was a victory but turned out to be a silver-medal ride when Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria) stayed away from the early breakaway. The result and the criticism that followed the Dutch team's miscommunication, Armstrong said, was fuel for Van Vleuten in the time trial.
"I knew, reading about her finish in the road race and all the drama in the road race, I knew - even my husband looked at me and said Van Vleuten is going to come out of that start gate and she's going to be on a mission," said Armstrong.
"Not only did she not get to do the time trial in Rio because of her unfortunate accident [she crashed while in the lead of the road race - ed], but then what happened to her just three days before the [Wednesday's] race really took that determination to a whole new level.
"I knew that she was going to bring this determination and grit to the table. When I saw her come out of that start gate, in the first kilometre I guarantee you she already had five seconds on anyone else."
After retiring from a successful career, Armstrong was happy to pass the Olympic title along to a rider she called "a true competitor".
"I want to congratulate Van Vleuten for her performance. I was praying internally I would be able to pass the baton to someone that I feel represents our sport very well. She's a true competitor, she has grit and she's shown the world that nothing is going to stop her from any kind of setback.
"I think that's a great example for our next generation and all the young girls and boys out there who are riding bikes. I'm proud to pass the baton onto a Dutch woman because there's nothing like the Dutch women when it comes to riding bikes."
Armstrong expressed no disappointment in the performance of her compatriot Chloé Dygert, who was one of the favourites for the medals but finished off the pace in seventh. Dygert suffered a serious laceration to her quadriceps during last year's World Championships in Imola and underwent months of rehabilitation.
"She recovered well and although the outside world sees it as 'wow, I can't even believe she's back', the athletes are so hard on themselves, they can't believe they didn't get on the podium," Armstrong said of Dygert.
"I'm as impressed as most people - to come back even as a healthy athlete... it's unreal. I think we're going to see Chloé continually improve in her health but we all have to be patient to see that fierce competitor come back.
"It's so hard for an athlete - when you're trying to reach the pinnacle of the sport you almost want to hide and not expose yourself until you are fully ready. Not only do I think she had a great ride, but I think it was very brave to come out and be on a worldwide platform. That takes a lot of guts."
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