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Olympics: Shock gold for Anna Kiesenhofer in women's road race

Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria) pulled off one of the biggest ever shocks in women's elite road racing to win the Olympic title in Tokyo on Sunday.

The Austrian attacked from the gun as part of a five-rider break that managed to build a lead of 11 minutes before she dropped her companions on the Kagosaka Pass with 41km to go and held off the entire bunch to take gold.

The race also saw the Dutch team mess up their tactics, with silver medalist Annemiek van Vleuten crossing the line in second place but celebrating as if she had won the race. The Dutch leader later confirmed that she thought that the break had been caught well before the finish and that her attack with 2.1km was enough to take the title. 

In the end, she was forced to settle for silver, with Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) taking third after a late chase. Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) lead home the remnants of the peloton in fourth.

Kiesenhofer, a recognized time trialist but without a WorldTour team or any teammates in the race, came into the event as an absolute outsider for a medal but a perfect storm of questionable tactics from the major nations – especially the Netherlands - incredible legs from the 30-year-old, and a huge error made by the chase were enough to seal the gold medal in dramatic style.

To put Kiesenhofer’s dominant performance into context, she held off a solo counter-attack from Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) who jumped with 5km to go but was unable to cut the Austrian’s lead down to under five minutes. The Dutch rider was reeled in with 25km remaining.

Throughout the day, the bunch failed to get to grips with the breakaway. First, they allowed a powerful group of Kiesenhofer, Carla Oberholzer (South Africa), Vera Looser (Namibia), Omer Shapira (Israel), and Anna Plichta (Poland) to ride away at the start and establish a lead of 10 minutes. With 100km to go, and the gap holding steady, the only team that took responsibility for the chase seemed to be Germany, who cut a minute off the break’s advantage as the leaders dropped down three riders.

What was needed was a consistent chase pattern but, after Van Vleuten had a brief scare when she fell with around 60km to go, the Dutch decided that they would fire riders up the road in a bid to break up the bunch and cut the gap. They succeeded in those aims to some extent but, when Van Vleuten did attack, the lead was still almost six minutes.

The Dutch rider never even looked close to catching Kiesenhofer, and when she was caught it was too late for the bunch to salvage the race as out ahead Kiesenhofer put in the time trial of her life.

The four-rider Dutch team finally began a concerted chase inside the final 10km, with silver and bronze still on the line. They caught the remnants of the break with less than 5km to go before Van Vleuten attacked in the closing stages to salvage silver, with Longo Borghini taking bronze.

For Kiesenhofer, who even took a break from racing after losing her place on Lotto in 2017, the win was quite obviously the biggest victory of her career, and the next race will be between teams hoping to sign her for 2022.

How it unfolded

A day after Richard Carapaz’s win in the men’s road race, it was the turn of the women’s field to compete for the medals in the Tokyo road race. Unlike in the men’s race, only 67 riders were allowed on the start line due to outdated regulations that will be changed for Paris in three years but the action began from the gun, with Kiesenhofer the first rider to make a move.

She was joined by Carla Oberholzer (South Africa), Vera Looser (Namibia), Omer Shapira (Israel), and Anna Plichta (Poland), and it looked like the race would settle into a traditional pattern. With such a strong group up the road, the bunch would always need to be wary of the time gap. However, with most of the bunch looking at the Dutch to set the tone of the race, the break were quickly allowed to build a sizeable lead. 

The gap ballooned out to 11 minutes at one point but stood at a steady 10 minutes with 100km to. The bunch had to make a concerted effort at that point, even with Looser and Oberholzer losing contact with the break. However, only the German team seemed concerned by the gap, with three of their riders posted on the front.

Anna Van Der Breggen, the defending champion, made her first appearance at the front with 74km to go but a fall for Van Vleuten forced the Dutch to sit up. That slowdown was short-lived with Demi Vollering attacking with 61km to go. She was quickly caught, with Van Vleuten the next Dutch rider to attack. 

That sparked a flurry of moves, with Ruth Winder (USA) and Van Der Breggen among the moves on the first major climb. With 58km to go, the gap was still at 8:35 before Van Der Breggen stretched her legs once more. That kick was enough to drop the Australian duo of Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown, with the peloton reduced to fewer than 30 riders. Winder made a second move with 55km to go with several other riders dropped including, Chloe Dygert (USA).

Van Vleuten’s major move came with 51km to go, with the gap to the leading trio at 5:40. Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) and several other riders tried to mount a chase but the Dutch rider built up a lead of around a minute as she descended to the base of the climb. With 43km to go, though, Van Vleuten had only managed to cut the lead to 5:17 and two kilometres later Kiesenhofer made her move on the Kagosaka Pass.

She quickly distanced her two remaining breakaway companions before Van Vleuten was caught with 25km to go. 

A split in the bunch left the Dutch with just Van Vleuten and Marianne Vos in the chase group, with USA and Germany leading the reduced bunch, but the team in orange were back to their full quota as the pace increased. A group of four briefly went clear before Juliette Labous (France) attacked but, as the peloton hit the finishing circuit, they still had three riders out front. 

Shapira and rider Plichta were finally caught with 4.5km to go as the Dutch team massed on the front and looked to set up their finish – clearly thinking that the entire break had been caught. Van Vleuten attacked with 2.1km to go and Elisa Longo Borghini went after her. The Dutch rider, thinking that she was heading to gold, celebrated on the line and, in another dramatic twist, clearly thought that she had won the race until she was informed of Kiesenhofer’s survival. 

She would have to settle for silver in the end, with Kiesenhofer well deserving of her Olympic title.

Results
Pos.Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria) 3:52:45
2Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) 0:01:15
3Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) 0:01:29
4Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) 0:01:39
5Marianne Vos (Netherlands) 0:01:46
6Lisa Brennauer (Germany)
7Coryn Rivera (USA)
8Marta Cavalli (Italy)
9Olga Zabelinskaya (Uzbekistan)
10Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark)
11Elizabeth Deignan (Great Britain)
12Mavi Garcia (Spain)
13Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa)
14Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland)
15Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands)
16Karol-Ann Canuel (Canada) 0:02:20
17Alena Amialiusik (Belarus)
18Marta Lach (Poland) 0:02:28
19Eugenia Bujak (Slovakia)
20Christine Majerus (Luxembourg)
21Eri Yonamine (Japan)
22Paula Andrea Patino Bedoya (Colombia) 0:02:30
23Liane Lippert (Germany) 0:02:32
24Omer Shapira (Israel) 0:02:38
25Demi Vollering (Netherlands) 0:02:56
26Tiffany Cromwell (Australia)
27Anna Plichta (Poland) 0:03:13
28Ane Santesteban Gonzalez (Spain) 0:03:19
29Leah Thomas (USA) 0:03:22
30Juliette Labous (France)
31Chloe Dygert (USA) 0:06:06
32Alison Jackson (Canada) 0:07:02
33Tereza Neumanova (Czech Republic)
34Arlenis Sierra (Cuba)
35Rasa Leleivyte (Lithuania)
36Leah Kirchmann (Canada)
37Katrine Aalerud (Norway) 0:07:07
38Ahreum Na (South Korea) 0:08:23
39Tamara Dronova (ROC)
40Sarah Gigante (Australia)
41Hannah Ludwig (Germany)
42Julie Van De Velde (Belgium)
43Hiromi Kaneko (Japan)
44Marta Bastianelli (Italy) 0:09:31
45Ruth Winder (USA)
46Marlen Reusser (Switzerland)
47Grace Brown (Australia)
48Soraya Paladin (Italy) 0:15:55
DNFEmma Cecilie Joergensen (Denmark)
DNFValerie Demey (Belgium)
DNFStine Borgoli (Norway)
DNFTeniel Campbell (Trinidad and Tobago)
DNFAntri Christoforou (Cyprus)
DNFJiajun Sun (China)
DNFAgua Marina Espinola Salinas (Paraguay)
DNFAmanda Spratt (Australia)
DNFTrixi Worrack (Germany)
DNFAnna Shackley (Great Britain)
DNFCarla Oberholzer (South Africa)
DNFValeriya Kononenko (Ukraine)
DNFJutatip Maneephan (Thailand)
DNFVera Looser (Namibia)
DNFLizbeth Yareli Salazar Vazquez (Mexico)
DNFSelam Amha (Ethiopia)
DNFMosana Debesay (Eritrea)
DNFMaria Jose Vargas Barrientos (Costa Rica)
DNFCatalina Anais Soto Campos

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Daniel Benson
Daniel Benson

Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.

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