Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) won the Olympic gold in the women's road race, out-sprinting Emma Johansson (Sweden) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) to inherit the title from teammate Marianne Vos.
The trio crushed the hopes of Mara Abbott (United States), who like Rafal Majka in the men's race one day earlier, was left solo on the descent of the final climb after the crash from a breakaway companion. Like Majka, Abbott ran out of fuel and was caught within sight of the line, missing out on the medals in the most heartbreaking fashion possible.
Abbott, 30, helped demolish the peloton on the 9km final climb, joining Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) before the top. Her careful approach to the damp, technical descent looked at first to be a mistake, as she lost 30 seconds to the Dutch rider. But the caution was well heeded, as Van Vleuten crashed badly in a turn on the descent, leaving Abbott alone to fend off the chasers on the long trip to Fort Copacabana.
Abbott, the two-time winner of the Giro Rosa, has made great strides in her time trialing abilities in recent years, and hoped to be able to hold on for gold over the chasers. But it was not to be, as the powerful chasing trio cooperated until the final meters to reel Abbott in.
"When we saw Annemiek lying there, it scared me a lot," van der Breggen said according to NOS. "It took a while, but then you have to race again."
Van der Breggen said that Johansson urged her on, saying, "Come on, we will do it for Anne." The encouragement worked perhaps too well as the Dutch rider hit out with 150m to go and was virtually unchallenged in the sprint.
"I saw the 150m to go sign, and I thought, 'this is all very unreal'. It's incredible, really."
Abbott was disappointed after her team worked the whole day to keep her in good position.
"I didn't believe it. I saw the 300m to go sign, and I thought 'holy shit, I can actually win this'," Abbott said. "Then I looked under my shoulder and they were right there, and they passed me. There was a split second when I thought it and then... It feels awful, but at the same time you were supported by a team that worked so hard and did so well to give you a chance to win. In some ways I'm so disappointed to have not been able to give something back, but in other ways I'm one of the luckiest people in the world to have those people behind me."
How it unfolded
The women's 136.9km road race began under warm, muggy and slightly overcast conditions, with more wind than the men had faced on the previous day.
After a quick start along the coast, the first attack came in the crosswinds from Lotte Kopecky (Belgium), who quickly built up a lead of two minutes. She was pursued for a time by Romy Kasper (Germany), but Kasper never halved the gap, and was pulled in on the Grumari climb after 45km of racing.
Kopecky continued on her solo journey as Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands) attacked from the field and pulled away a group containing Giorgia Bronzini (Italy), Trixi Worrack (Germany), and Anna Plichta (Poland). Sensing the danger, Kristin Armstrong (USA) jumped across.
Emma Pooley (Great Britain) chased, bringing the Van Dijk group back to a dozen seconds atop the Grota Funda ascent, but then let the gap go back out before launching an attack to bridge. Pooley was followed by Gracie Elvin (Australia), but when defending champion Marianne Vos (Netherlands) bridged across, the trio sat up.
That left Kopecky with a lead of 1:30, with the chase group halfway between, and by the time the peloton reached the cobblestones for the second time halfway through the race, the peloton could see both the chasers and Kopecky, thanks in part to the efforts of Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia), a late entry into the race after a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Kopecky's time out front finally came to a close on the Grumari climb, a short but very steep ascent, with 67.7km to go. She was swept up by the five-woman chase with the peloton not far behind.
By the top of the climb, the peloton was all back together.
The peloton was together at the top, but came apart in tatters on the fast, twisty descent, with most of the favourites represented in the front.
Defending champion Marianne Vos was caught out in the second group and was forced to chase, while teammates Van Dijk, van der Breggen and Van Vleuten made the front group. It took a while but with 60km to go the bunch was back together again.
The peloton took a breather, picking up their musettes in the feed zone before going tempo up the Grota Funda ascent the final time.
Audrey Cordon (France) broke the stalemate with a solo attack on the last part of the Grumari circuit with 55km to go.
Elena Cecchini (Italy) launched a move to reel Cordon in, and was joined by a handful of riders, but the action only served to spark some life into the peloton, which quickly brought the chasers back and closed in on Cordon with 48km to go, and it was all back together for the trek to the final difficulty - the 9km of climbing to Vista Chinesa and the tricky descent that followed.
Attacks before the climb
Trixi Worrack put in a strong dig along the coast, and was joined by a group of six riders including Vos, Ferrand Prevot, Cecchini, Anisha Vekemans (Belgium), Malgorzta Jasinska (Poland) and Gracie Elvin (Australia).
The move gained 22 seconds, with Armstrong keeping any counter-attacks from getting across.
Without much help from other countries, however, the two-time Olympic gold medalist was unable to keep the seven leaders from pulling out a dangerous advantage of 45 seconds with 33km to go.
Lotta Lepisto (Finland) and Evelyn Stevens (USA) came forward to help control the move, but the leaders gained well over a minute as the final climb loomed.
The grand finale
The leaders had 1:15 as they started up the Joá ascent, the steep appetizer for the massive mountain to come. A surge from Evelyn Stevens (USA), brought the gap down to under a minute as the peloton shattered behind.
The efforts of the climbers began to pay off, as Abbott pushed the pace to bring back the leaders to 10 seconds as they began up the Canoas climb.
The steep slopes put paid to the efforts for the seven - Abbott surged past with Moolman-Pasio with 22.8km to go, and whittled down the lead group to eight. With 20km to go, Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini and Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) put in a surge that dropped Abbott's teammate Stevens out the back.
Soon, there were only four riders at the front: Abbott, van der Breggen and Van Vleuten, and Longo Borghini, chased by Emma Johansson (Sweden).
On the second pitch of the final climb, Van Vleuten put in a dig and Abbott was the only one able to go across. At Vista Chinesa, Abbott and Van Vleuten had 22 seconds on van der Breggen, Longo Borghini and Johansson.
On the descent, Van Vleuten left the clearly timid Abbott behind, but her aggressive approach ended badly with a crash on one of the final bends as she enjoyed half a minute over Abbott.
The American had 38 seconds over the chasing group as she reached the bottom, but it was not enough.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Anna van Der Breggen (Netherlands)||3:51:27|
|2||Emma Johansson (Sweden)|
|3||Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)|
|4||Mara Abbott (United States Of America)||0:00:04|
|5||Elizabeth Armitstead (Great Britain)||0:00:20|
|6||Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland)|
|7||Flavia Oliveira (Brazil)|
|8||Jolanda Neff (Switzerland)|
|9||Marianne Vos (Netherlands)||0:01:14|
|10||Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa)|
|11||Megan Guarnier (United States Of America)|
|12||Evelyn Stevens (United States Of America)||0:01:16|
|13||Alena Amialiusik (Belarus)||0:02:16|
|14||Tatiana Guderzo (Italy)||0:02:19|
|15||Amanda Spratt (Australia)||0:04:09|
|16||Olga Zabelinskaya (Russian Federation)||0:04:25|
|17||Eri Yonamine (Japan)||0:04:56|
|18||Christine Majerus (Luxembourg)||0:05:07|
|19||Lisa Brennauer (Germany)|
|20||Elena Cecchini (Italy)|
|21||Ellen Van Dijk (Netherlands)|
|22||Rachel Neylan (Australia)|
|23||Linda Villumsen (New Zealand)|
|24||Malgorzta Jasinska (Poland)|
|25||Karol-Ann Canuel (Canada)|
|26||Pauline Ferrand Prevot (France)|
|27||Emilia Fahlin (Sweden)||0:06:36|
|28||Arlenis Sierra Canadilla (Cuba)|
|29||Anisha Vekemans (Belgium)|
|30||Ahreum Na (Korea)|
|31||Claudia Lichtenberg (Germany)|
|32||Polona Batagelj (Slovenia)|
|33||Vita Heine (Norway)||0:07:07|
|34||Daiva Tuslaite (Lithuania)|
|35||Olena Pavlukhina (Azerbaijan)||0:07:38|
|36||Ganna Solovei (Ukraine)||0:09:35|
|37||Audrey Cordon (France)||0:09:37|
|38||Leah Kirchmann (Canada)||0:10:02|
|39||An-Li Kachelhoffer (South Africa)|
|40||Ana Sanabria (Colombia)|
|41||Anna Plichta (Poland)|
|42||Giorgia Bronzini (Italy)||0:10:06|
|43||Trixi Worrack (Germany)|
|44||Romy Kasper (Germany)||0:10:40|
|45||Lotte Kopecky (Belgium)|
|46||Martina Ritter (Austria)|
|47||Ane Santesteban Gonzalez (Spain)||0:11:32|
|48||Shani Bloch (Israel)|
|49||Gracie Elvin (Australia)||0:11:34|
|50||Jennifer Cesar (Venezuela)||0:11:51|
|51||Lotta Lepisto (Finland)||0:12:07|
|52||Nikki Harris (Great Britain)|
|53||Emma Pooley (Great Britain)||0:17:45|
|OTL||Clemilda Fernandes Silva (Brazil)||0:23:12|
|OTL||Antri Christoforou (Cyprus)||0:24:57|
|DNF||Annemiek Van Vleuten (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Kristin Armstrong (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Katrin Garfoot (Australia)|
|DNF||Tara Whitten (Canada)|
|DNF||Sara Mustonen (Sweden)|
|DNF||Ann-Sophie Duyck (Belgium)|
|DNF||Chantal Hoffmann (Luxembourg)|
|DNF||Carolina Rodriguez Gutierrez (Mexico)|
|DNF||Paola Munoz (Chile)|
|DNF||Jutatip Maneephan (Thailand)|
|DNF||Vera Adrian (Namibia)|
|DNF||Milagro Mena (Costa Rica)|
|DSQ||Ting Ying Huang (Chinese Taipei)|
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Latest on Cyclingnews
Anna Kiesenhofer the anti-authoritarian 'mastermind' of her own Olympic glory'On paper I’m an amateur, but cycling takes up a lot of space in my life'
Annemiek van Vleuten: No race radios led to confusion at Tokyo OlympicsSilver medallist says lack of communication was 'far from professional'
Dutch divided at Olympics: Vos knew Kiesenhofer was away, Van der Breggen didn'tEveryone agrees they underestimated surprise winner Kiesenhofer
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig calls passive women's race 'absurd’ at Tokyo Olympics'It was a pretty bad portrayal of women cycling' says Dane
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.