Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the women's road race at the Tokyo Olympics.
Pleased to have you with us to follow the second cycling event of the Tokyo Olympics, the 137 kilometre women's road race from Musashinonomori Park to the Fuji International Speedway.
With an hour and a quarter left till the riders roll off the start line, let's take a look at what conditions they'll be facing up to today to see it all that training in hot climates and the sauna was worth it?
Looks like it was worth it. It’ll be a hot start with the forecast for the temperature at the Musashinonomori Park start line hovering around 33 to 34°C. It will likely cool a little as they head toward the Fuji International speedway, dropping into the mid 20’s by the finish.
Speaking earlier this week after she'd had a few days in the heat and humidity of Tokyo, Australia's Grace Brown said this of the conditions:
"Definitely the environment here is a massive factor for the racing. It's hot and humid and we get very sweaty. And, I think the best way we can cope with that is hydrating in the race. I think we've been here for long enough now. It's been a week that we've adapted as best we can to the conditions, but we still need to be really mindful of the stress on the body racing in that sort of heat."
"You sweat and it just doesn't evaporate. So you've just got water droplets sitting on you constantly, your kit is wet and it's uncomfortable, but you just have to accept that that's how you feel. It's not like the scorching oven heat of an Australian summer so I haven't felt like I have had heat stress or anything while I've been here. It's mid to low 30s so it's not horrendous."
The Australian team looking pretty relaxed in the heat.
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While Brown may not think temperatures in the 30's are horrendous others may feel a little differently.
Great Britain’s Lizzie Deignan, trained in Monaco, eschewing the altitude, to try and get herself ready for the heat, or as she put it when we spoke to her last month, “as ready as I can be."
"I don't think I'm ever going to be a rider that's going to say, 'yeah it's hot, great’. I'd much prefer the snow or the rain, but it is what it is.”
One hour to go till the start now.
Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten headed to the cooler climates of the mountains but opted to ramp up the heat and humidity by training in a Sauna. She wrote a blog for us about her Olympic preparation where you can read all about it.
One thing is for sure, the team cars will be well packed with ice and if yesterday's men's road race is anything to go by the back of the peloton will be a busy place with riders constantly going back to restock the fluids and grab stockings full of ice. The team workers are likely to be kept busy.
Not that there are a lot of team workers on hand at the Olympics, as the maximum number of riders the women's teams can have is four.
There are 67 riders on the start list for the women's road race this Olympics, compared to the 130 on the start list of the men's road race.
The difference in numbers between the men's and women's field, however, is set to change for Paris.
✅ This is the last time that Olympic participation will be unequal in the road cycling race, as there will be full gender parity from the 2024 Olympics, with 90 athletes in each event! In 2024, there will be 514 places for all cycling disciplines, 257 men & 257 women. 🙌July 20, 2021
Australia, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and the United States qualified for four riders per team. Belgium was the only nation that secured three spots, while nations that secured two riders per team included Canada, Denmark, Spain, Great Britain, Japan, Norway, Poland and South Africa. All other competing nations secured one spot.
Riders like Juliette Labous of France, Omer Shapira of Israel, Marlen Reusser of Switzerland and Christine Majerus of Luxembourg will have to fend for themselves.
Key contenders like Ashleigh Moolman Pasio of South Africa and Lizzie Deignan will have just one teammate. Though, Deignan did point out there was one advantage to that, being an underdog means the pressure of the race doesn't rest on your shoulders. You can find out more about her approach to the Olympics in the article below.
Lizzie Deignan: Being underdogs at the Tokyo Olympics isn’t a bad thing
Moolman-Pasio will be trying to lean into her insider knowledge of the unquestionable favourites, the Dutch, after making it to Tokyo after a strong showing at the Giro d'Italia Donne.
Happy to be in Japan for @Tokyo2020! It feels quite surreal to be here during these challenging times. Travel went smoothly, I've adjusted well to the time zone and I'm feeling strong. Looking forward to race day! 🚴♀️ RR - 25 July at 13.00 JST⏱ TT - 28 July 11 - 12.30 JST pic.twitter.com/mXdRtIAdGUJuly 21, 2021
What a Dutch team it is too. Anna van der Breggen, Marianne Vos. Annemiek van Vleuten and Demi Vollering which means four of the world's top five riders are on the Dutch team. (Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini is the only non-Dutch rider that has managed to break through the Netherlands blockade of the top ranks)
Plus of course two of those riders are already gold medallist. Vollering, the youngster of the team, is also the only one not to have worn the rainbow stripes of the World Road Champion, but there's still plenty of time for that. For now she is clearly happy to be keeping such good company.
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We are getting close to the start now, with pictures of the riders getting ready hitting the screens, so let's take a look at the course the riders will take on as they work their way through the 137km race from Musashinonomori Park to the Fuji International Speedway.
The women's course will not go over Mt. Fuji like the men's but will include climbs over Donushi Road and Kagosaka Pass, and there will be 2,692 metres of elevation gain.
We begin with a 10km neutral zone, then its 30km of flat terrain before reaching the mid-race section of climbing. Then there is some 45km of gradual climbing with an average gradient of 2 per cent to the top of the first ascent of the race, Donushi Road. The final 5km of the climb has an average of 6 per cent but with sections as steep as 10 per cent. The ascent peaks at the 80km mark of the race.
After a 1.5km descent and 12.5km of flat terrain along Lake Yamanaka, the peloton will begin climbing the second ascent over Kagosaka Pass. This climb is 2.2km with an average gradient of 5 per cent.
Then comes the 14km descent toward the Fuji International Speedway, where the field rides one and a half laps of the undulating track before we find out who will claim the road race medals at the Tokyo Games.
Here is a map of the course.
The riders have rolled off from the start line at Musashinonomori Park.
There are some thin roads for the field to move through in the neutral zone as they head out through the mostly flat outskirts of Tokyo. The roads are lined with masked spectators clapping the field as it passes by.
The Dutch team are still wearing the ice vests as they slowly pedal behind the Commissaire's car.
The rows of helmets don't stretch back anywhere near as far as we are used to seeing, with just 67 riders on the start list. Plus it is a peloton that is bound to get much smaller once we hit the climbs.
The Dutch are spread across the front row, making their presence felt, a pattern which is expected to continue throughout the race.
With four riders that could win, much of the discussion in the run up to the race hasn't been who could win, but how can anyone beat the Dutch.
Polish contender Kasia Niewiadoma, is hoping that she'll have some company in trying to unseat the power-packed team from the Netherlands:
"I believe that the Dutch team will try to set the pace on the climbs to reduce the peloton, to drop everyone and be at the top of the climb with just four Dutchies," Niewiadoma told Cyclingnews. "I believe that the race will be raced in terms of how the Dutch team wants to do it, but I hope that there will be more nations that can mess up their plan."
The Australians too aren't prepared to sit back and just watch them walk away with the medals with Grace Brown saying the nation isn't racing for second and Amanda Spratt telling us in an interview last month that:
"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."
The Dutch team have taken off their ice vests and it is Marianne Vos who is taking them to the car for her team. Interesting.
The flag has dropped and they are off and racing.
An attack of three has gone already, an Austrian, Namibian and South African rider.
It is Anna Kiesenhofer, Carla Oberholzer and Vera Looser and another two riders have also joined.
The two other riders in the break are Israel's Omer Shapira and Polish rider Anna Plichta.
Ethiopian rider Selam Amha is also trying to bridge the gap.
Amha has also been joined by Eritrea's Mosana Debesay so the duo are trying to bridge the gap to the break, which is now a little less than two minutes ahead of the peloton.
Ice for Coryn Rivera of the US, who is also back at the car loading up with bottles for her teammates, Ruth Winder, Chloe Dygert and Leah Thomas.
Rivera will be a dangerous rider if she can get over the climbs and make it to the finish with a bunch, she is hard to beat in a sprint.
Our Cyclingnews women's editor Kirsten Frattini spoke to her last month about her Olympic plans and more: Coryn Rivera: Full steam ahead for Tokyo Olympic Games
There are a couple of young riders sitting among the front of the bunch at the moment, with Great Britain's Anna Shackley sheltering Lizzie Deignan and Australia's Sarah Gigante looking like she is on high alert for any dangerous attacks.
This is Gigante's first race back from a horrible crash at La Flèche Wallonne, where she broke three bones, and when I spoke to her earlier this month she couldn't have been more excited to be on that start line in Tokyo.
Germany is on the attack, trying to stretch out the bunch with a couple of digs but it doesn't look like its going to stick.
The lead group of five have stretched out the lead to about four-and-a-half minutes, with the chase group of two not having made any real inroads.
Just a reminder again of the five riders out the front: Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria, Carla Oberholzer of South Africa, Vera Looser of Namibia along with Israel's Omer Shapira and Polish rider Anna Plichta.
Handy for both South Africa's Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio and Poland's Kasia Niewiadoma to have a rider out the front.
111km to go
Australia's Tiffany Cromwell has gone back to the team car to have a chat and pass a load of bottles back into the team car. Germany's Hannah Ludwig is also doing the same. It's certainly another busy day back at the team cars again today with the amount of liquid the riders are going through in the heat.
The Dutch may be the team to beat at this Olympics, but at this point they aren't sitting at the front of the group and wearing the pressure of having to control the race, with the Germans, Australians among the teams sitting at the front.
Now the rider from Paraguay Agua Marina Espínola and Chile's Catalina Anais Soto Campos are trying to make it across to the lead group of five.
Both the rider from Chile and Paraguay are the sole representatives for their countries, but they look to be moving across strongly and working well together.
Soto Campos though is very familiar to some riders among the peloton, with the 20 year old Chilean having spent a considerable amount of time in Australia riding at the same club as Sarah Gigante, the Brunswick Cycling Club. The Melbourne club is well represented at the Olympics, with Luke Plapp who is representing Australia on the track also from Brunswick.
97km to go
The climbing has really started now. The chase duo of the Chilean and rider from Paraguay has stretched out a gap of about three minutes to the peloton while the lead group of five are now about ten minutes ahead.
The lead group of five looks like it is becoming a lead group of four, with the Namibian rider losing touch on the climb with the riders working their way up toward Doshi Road.
As the road turns up the Dutch can now be seen on the front.
Annemiek van Vleuten at the front has reeled in Mosana Debay of Eritrea and now the German team is assembling at the front.
Here's the lead group, before the Namibian rider dropped back, with images from earlier in the race starting to come through.
And an image of the roll out from the start line.
88km to go
And now the lead group of four has become a lead group of three. South African rider Carla Oberholzer has been dropped.
The riders out the front now are Israel's Omer Shapira, Polish rider Anna Plichta and Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria.
We haven't seen much of, or talked about, the Italian's yet but they are also certainly a team to watch. As I mentioned earlier, Elisa Longo Borghini is the only non-Dutch rider in the top five of the world rankings. She didn't have the Giro d'Italia she wanted, but she's a rider filled with national pride and there's no doubt she'll leave it all on the road in pursuit of victory.
She told SkySport Italy: "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."
Usually Longo-Borghini has a firm ally on the bike in Lizzie Deignan, but given the pair aren't racing for their trade team today but their nations instead the usually in sync duo will be facing off against each other.
In the Old Continent 🇪🇺 a challenge between England 🏴 and Italy 🇮🇹 is about to start ⚽️May the best team win 👊📸 @harperjojo pic.twitter.com/PdMv6YrHYvJuly 11, 2021
80km to go
The three out the front still have about ten minutes lead on the peloton, while the chase group is less than two minutes ahead of the peloton and the gap is shrinking.
That may have something to do with the fact that the Dutch have moved to the front.
The pace is starting to pick up a little in the peloton but the Dutch seem determined not to get stuck with the task of pace setting. The gap to the lead group has now dropped to 9:20.
75km to go
The gold medallist of five years ago, Anna van der Breggen, is sitting at the back of the group. It looks like she is surveying the field.
If either Van der Breggen or Vos happened to win today they would be the first women to win two gold medals at the road race.
The chase group of two Agua Marina Espínola of Paraguay and Chile's Catalina Anais Soto Campos have been swept up.
Now Van der Breggen has moved from the back to front and the pace is definitely up. South Africa's Moolman Pasio, who the rest of the year is a teammate, is sticking to her wheel.
70km to go
And as quickly as a Dutch rider appears on the front, they disappear again. Feels like they are playing games with the peloton.
The top of the Doshi Road climb comes at about 80km of racing, or around 60 kilometres to go so we've still got about 10km of climbing before they get a bit of a reprieve at the top before Kagosaka Pass.
Annemiek van Vleuten was off the back and Marianne Vos has dropped back to pace her back on.
Not sure what happened to the Dutch rider, may have been a mechanical as there is no sign of crash damage on the rider. She has joined the group again now.
That work by Vos again could well shed some light on the worker/protected rider division in the Dutch team.
We are now seeing pictures of Van Vleuten having had a crash.
She tangled with the rider from Denmark and hit the deck quite hard and is now back on the bike and working her way back to the peloton.
It was Emma Joergensen from Denmark she came down with.
Van Vleuten is back at the team car getting stocked up before she rejoins with the peloton. Looking surprisingly relaxed.
It looks like she has thankfully come out of this Olympic crash far better than the last. She had a horrible one on the descent in 2016, and suffered severe concussion and spinal fractures.
The Dutch are on the attack, Demi Vollering has taken off.
61km to fo
It is a serious attack too and the group is stretched in pursuit and riders are being shelled off the back.
The German team is leading the pursuit.
And Chloe Dygert has done a great job closing the gap.
It was a powerful turn of pace from the rider from the US but now Van Vleuten has gone straight to the front.
Now it is the US putting the pressure on and off the front.
Back together in the peloton again but all the action is slimming the gap to the three leaders, down to 8:30.
Ashleigh Moolman Pasio of South Africa is at the front and looking around to see who is going next.
Vollering was back on the front for the Dutch for a moment but the group is now spread across the road again.
Calm before the storm perhaps.
Back to the front of the race, the three leaders look to be continuing to work well together, with the gap at 8:38 and not falling any more now that things have settled for a moment in the main group.
Van der Breggen on the attack now.
Australia's Grace Brown has shut it down.
But it has split the peloton.
Now it is Van Vleuten's turn, with Kasia Niewiadoma of Poland on her wheel.
Together again, who is next?
The damage has been done, Amanda Spratt, a favourite for Australia is falling off the back.
Not a good day for the Australians, Brown is distanced too.
There are still two Australian jerseys in the peloton, with Gigante and Tiffany Cromwell. Perhaps not the expected ones.
Marta Bastianelli of Italy is also off the back, as is Australia's Cromwell now.
Van Vleuten goes again!
54km to go
It doesn't look like anyone has the firepower to pull her back at the moment either.
Leah Thomas of the US is drifting off the back, as is Christine Majerus of Luxembourg and Liane Lippert of Germany
No Australian's left in that group now either as Gigante, who was working at the front in the early stages of the race has gone too.
51km to go
Van Vleuten is putting it all in to the attack and more riders are slipping out the back, including Ruth Winder from the US.
Van Vleuten is on the descent now and chasing the three leaders alone.
Van Vleuten has about 40 seconds on the depleted peloton while the lead group has about 6:30.
On the descent Doshi Road and Lizzie Deignan is driving the pace.
Mavi Garcia of Spain tried to get away but Vos wouldn't have it.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig is trying to drive the pace but she is not getting a lot of help.
There isn't a lot of drive in the pursuit as the team numbers have been whittled down dramatically so riders aren't prepared to sacrifice their own chances.
Some of the riders that were dropped on the climb have managed to work their way back into that group.
Van Vleuten has stretched the gap out to over a minute but the lead group of three still have over five minutes on her.
It looks like three Australians have worked their way back into the swelling group and Leah Thomas of the US has also joined.
With the teammates back we may start to see a more concerted chase.
Anna Plichta has been dropped from the lead three and Kiesenhofer of Austria has also dropped Shapira.
The lead group of three who were working so well together are now all out there on their own.
40km to go
Van Vleuten is looking composed and grabbing a feed bag to keep the fuel up.
Ashleigh Moolman Pasio aggressive at the front but Deignan isn't going to let her get away.
35km to go
Kiesenhofer out the front is making the most of the descent, pushing the pace.
The descent off Kagosaka Pass is a long one, taking the riders towards the finishing circuit on the Fuji Speedway.
Olga Zabelinskaya of Uzbekistan is descending off the front of the group, creating a small gap.
She has been joined by Christine Majerus (LUX) Kasia Niewidoma (POL) and Lotte Kopecky (Belgium)
Kiesenhofer is still holding the gap to Van Vleuten, 5:08 ahead with the gap to the peloton coming down to well under a minute for the Dutch rider.
That group of four that has split from the group on the descent is looking strong, with some solid riders that are committing to the escape and working together.
And now that I've said that it looks like they are about to be reeled back in.
It is a seriously stretched out group with gaps aplenty.
Van Vleuten has been caught!
That is not something you often see as with her time trialling prowess usually once Van Vleuten gets the gap she just builds it.
Still it is another time triallist out the front, and surely the group has got to be getting seriously worried about the Austrian riders out the front at this point.
22km to go
The gap to the Austrian is just a little under five minutes now.
What an Olympics Games debut for the 30 year old Austrian time trial champion Anna Kiesenhofer.
20km to go
Her two former breakaway companions, Israel's Omer Shapira and Polish rider Anna Plichta are still away as well.
That means all the medals are up the road at the moment, and the gaps are solid. with 4:24 to Kiesenhofer and over two minutes to Shapira and Plichta.
The bell rings for Kiesenhofer and she now has just 17km to go.
Juliette Labous, the sole rider from France, has decided she isn't going to sit in the group and watch the medals ride away. She is off in pursuit.
Shapira and Plichta have now come through for the final lap of the Fuji Speedway, just a little over two minutes behind the Austrian.
Labous is four minutes back and the group is a further 15 seconds back.
An Olympic gold medal would be the biggest win of most cyclists career, but it would be a huge one for Kiesenhofer. Her biggest results have been winning the National time trial results and the road race as she is a five time national champion. Apart from that she has won stage 3 of the Tour de l'Ardeche in 2016.
Kiesenhofer rode with Lotte Soudal in 2017 but doesn't have a current professional contract ... at the moment. She also has a post-doc in maths so is probably calculating what she will need to do to keep that gap to the line as she goes.
10km to go
Kiesenhofer had 2:30 to the chase of Shapira and Plichta, with Labous still holding fourth on the road.
Labous is a minute back from the duo that are currently sitting in the silver and bronze positions, who have been out the front all day.
You can see the salt stains on the jersey of Shapira, it has been a long hot day out the front.
5.5km to go
Kiesenhofer has 2:49 to the chase of two.
Labous looks like she is about to be caught by the group, with the Dutch chasing hard.
And Labous is caught.
The Dutch are amassed on the front of the group, no games now, they just have to chase. They want a shot at silver and bronze even if gold has ridden off up the road.
4.7km to go
And Shapira and Plichta have been caught.
Silver and gold are back on the table, and now Niewiadoma is on the attack.
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig isn't going to let her get away.
The Danish rider doesn't want to be caught in a sprint but it doesn't look like she has been able to get away this time.
There are about 11 riders in the group now and Van der Breggen is trying to get away.
Now Van Vleuten has gone over the top and has a bit of a gap.
I.5km to go
Kiesenhofer still has over two minutes to the select group behind.
Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy is trying to bridge the gap to Van Vleuten.
The Italian rider is closing.
Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria has pulled off a huge surprise victory. She has taken Olympic gold.
It looks like Annemiek van Vleuten will hold on for silver.
Van Vleuten comes second.
Another bronze medal for Longo Borghini.
Lotte Kopecky took fourth for Belgium while Vos won the sprint for fifth to put two Dutch riders in the top 5.
What an amazing outcome at the end of a hugely exciting race.
Against the might of the Dutch, who had four of the five top ranked riders in the world on their team, a sole Austrian rider who is ranked 94th and doesn't have a professional contract won.
There were big celebrations for Van Vleuten, who appeared to have thought she had won, while there were tears for Longo Borghini who knew she hadn't but was delighted to get a medal.
You can find our race report here:
Anna Kiesenhofer comes over the line and celebrates gold.
Annemiek van Vleuten celebrating what it seems she thought was gold, but was silver.
Read more here: Olympics: Van Vleuten celebrates but mistakes silver for gold
Rounding out the top ten for the women's road race we have Lisa Brennauer (Germany) in sixth place, Coryn Rivera (USA) in seventh, Marta Cavalli (Italy) in eighth, 2012 bronze medallist Olga Zabelinskaya (Uzbekistan) was ninth and in tenth place it was Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark).
We now have the medal ceremony for the race, with the podium on the speedway.
UCI president David Lappartient is on the sidelines to help present to the medallists.
With the medals and flowers of course taken from trays and the medal hung around the neck by the athlete.
Photos for the medallists and Kiesenhofer almost looking like she can't believe where she is. Think the other two are far more used to being up on the podium.
Wearing those hard earned medals.
Now that the medal ceremony is over let’s move from the medallists, to further down the results table. There were five other riders that came in with that group which Vos won the sprint from that were outside the top 10. They were Lizzie Deignan (GBR) in 11th, Mavi Garcia (ESP) in 12th, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio (RSA) in 13th, Kasia Niewiadoma (POL) in 14th place and finally Anna van der Breggen (NED) in fifteenth.
A word from the winner: "It's just so incredible," said Kiesenhofer. I have really sacrificed so much for today. I wasn't expecting to finish it off like that. I sacrificed everything even for a top-15 place and now to get this, for the sacrifices, it's just such a reward, it's incredible."
Looking back over the top 20 of the race, there is one notable absence and that's Australia. All the teams that had the full squad of four, bar Australia, had at least one rider in the top ten. Both Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown were considered serious contenders for a medal, but Spratt didn't finish and Brown came 47th. Tiffany Cromwell was the top finisher for the nation in 26th. Still that was an impressive ride for the road captain as she is a rider that would have been expected to be an early worker that wasn't there at the end, yet she could be seen clinging on into the Fuji Speedway.
“I’m happy I just kept fighting to the end ... I had nothing left, that’s for sure,” Cromwell said in an AAP report.
The 20 year old Sarah Gigante, who was working up the front early in the race, also hung in there to be the second best finisher for the team in 40th.
In the end 48 riders finished, with Soraya Paladin of Italy the last rider across the line, 4:08 behind the winner Anna Kiesenhofer.
Time to sign off for our live coverage of the women's road race at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Thanks for joining us.
We'll have the news from the race continuing to flow on the site and hope to see you back for the live coverage of the time trials on Wednesday, July 28.
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