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Austrian rider Anna Kiesenhoffer lands massive Olympic upset
Annemiek van Vleuten celebrates silver thinking she had won
Elisa Longo Borghini takes repeat bronze five years after Rio
Team GB rider Lizzie Deignan finishes in 11th place in Tokyo
Amateur rider Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria, a doctor of mathematics who studied at Cambridge University, pulled off one of the great shock results in Olympic history on Sunday, completely outsmarting the field to win a sensational gold in the women’s road race.
Even more incredibly, she did it without any of her rivals realising.
Pre-race favourite Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands crossed the line in second place and raised her arms aloft in the belief that she had won. In fact, she had finished 1min 15sec after Kiesenhofer who was by then lying on her back on the asphalt of the Fuji International Speedway heaving great gulps of air and sobbing.
It will be a bitter pill to swallow for Van Vleuten, who infamously suffered a near-fatal crash in Rio five years ago on the final descent, somersaulting over her handlebars and into a concrete gutter when it looked as if she would win. This time her pain was more mental than physical.
No one had counted on Kiesenhofer. The 30-year-old, who rode for Lotto-Soudal in 2017 but is currently without a trade team, broke away at the very start of the 137 kilometre race with five other riders before going solo on the final climb with 40km remaining.
All eyes were on the Dutch to chase since they had four riders capable of winning in Van Vleuten, Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen and Demi Vollering. But Van Vleuten had a spill herself – in the exact same spot as Geraint Thomas did in the men’s road race the previous day – and it was pretty disorganised. The lack of race radio or even chalkboards on the back of race motorbikes informing riders of the gap, made things even more confusing.
Even so, the chasing group clearly thought they had swept up the last remnants of the break on the final circuit of the Fuji F1 race track, with Van Vleuten clipping away from the others and riding solo to the line, with Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini next over the line.
But they had reckoned without Kiesenhofer. They all had. Britain’s Lizzie Deignan, who finished 11th, offered her congratulations to Van Vleuten in a post-race interview on the BBC. She was startled when, on returning to the pits, she was told who had actually won.
“I don’t know a lot about her, she’s definitely a surprise winner,” she all she could say. “There was a huge lack of info.” It was Austria’s first cycling gold since 1896, their first in any sport since 2004, and one of the great muggings in Olympic history.
After the race, Van Vleuten told her soigneur Ruud Zijlmans: "Oh Ruud, I was completely wrong, I didn't realise it at all."
"I thought I was (number) one," the 38-year-old said. "I was wrong. We didn't get it."
Deignan: I'm really disappointed, but have much to be thankful for
Speaking after finishing in 11th spot, a philosophical Lizzie Deignan said she was disappointed, but that she was happy to have been involved after the Team GB rider rolled over the line with a group containing many of the pre-race favourites.
"It was a weird old day," she said. "I was between a rock and hard place really. From midway through I was on my own but unfortunately on my own but also marked so I didn't have the freedom to ride as a solo rider. Tactically I think I did the right thing it just didn't go my way.
"It was a weird race, although there are small teams there are agendas within team. Because the race is so hot and so humid all of the moves were a bit blunted, there wasn't that kind of spark. It was a defensive race but still really hard.
"I'm obviously really disappointed but I have the perspective that I put myself in the position to be here, I have had a great team behind me. We have had a pandemic and we have still had an Olympics and there is so much to be thankful for. "
Van Vleuten thought she had won gold!
Annemiek van Vleuten looked absolutely delighted with her silver medal, but according to some – including a well known Dutch cycling journalist – she had thought she had won the Olympic title. Having caught Anna Plichta (Poland) and Omer Shapira (Israel) the peloton, presumably, had assumed they were leading the race. With no race radios in operation today there was no way for information being relayed to them. Tweeting shortly after the race, José Been posted that Van Vleuten confirmed she thought she had won the Olympic title, saying: “I didn’t know. I was wrong. I didn’t know”
Van Vleuten takes silver
Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) holds on to take second and win silver, while Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) takes silver, but today is all about the Austrian without a trade team who attacked from the flag forming the day's breakaway and went all the way to the line.
Kiesenhoffer is Olympic champion!
Anna Kiesenhoffer is an absolute legend. She's done it. It is the first gold medal an Austrian athlete has won at the summer Games since Roman Hagara and Hans-Peter Steinacher prevailed in the sailing tornado class at Athens 2004 and their first in cycling since Athens 1896. On that occasion it was Adolf Schmal, who was also a fencer, who won the 12-hour race that was contested by just two riders.
1km to go
Anna Kiesenhoffer is moments away from winning what will be only Austria's second ever cycling medal at the Olympic Games.
1.5km to go
Anna van der Breggen attacks before Annemiek van Vleuten counters and is off up the road having put some space between herself and the reduced peloton. Elisa Longo Borghini is chasing.
3km to go
Anna Kiesenhoffer is holding on to her lead with an advantage of 2min 25sec, while the attacks are coming wave after wave from the bunch, presumably they will be fighting over silver and bronze.
4.5km to go
Heartbreak for Anna Plichta (Poland) and Omer Shapira (Israel) who have been caught by the Dutch-powered chasing peloton. Can they now catch Anna Kiesenhoffer? Oh my, what a great race this is.
6km to go
Taking a couple of corners fairly gingerly, Anna Kiesenhoffer hits the final short climb of the day, the point where Richard Carapaz dropped Brandon McNulty yesterday. But Kiesenhoffer has nobody to drop, she is, surely, going to land a historic gold medal for Austria today. Further back, the four Dutchwomen are riding hard on the front of the chasing pack, but it may be too little too late for the team that underestimated the strength of today's breakaway. Massively.
9km to go
Anna Kiesenhoffer (Austria) leads Anna Plichta (Poland) and Omer Shapira (Israel), her former breakaway companions, by 2min 32sec, while Juliette Labous (France) is another minute or so down the road. All of the pre-race favourites are a short distance back. What a story this is turning into, a real Olympic fairytale. The amateur who outsmarted the world's best professionals.
11km to go
Anna Kiesenhoffer leads the peloton by 4min 14sec. The 30-year-old who no longer rides for a trade team instigated today's breakaway and has don a quite superb ride. From using eaxtra large water bottles to timing her final attack when she dropped Anna Plichta (Poland) and Omer Shapira (Israel) through to holding of, first Annemiek van Vleuten and then the peloton she has been brilliant.
14km to go
Anna van der Breggen is the next to attack from the bunch, but the Dutchwoman is closed down very quickly. Anna Kiesenhoffer, head bobbing slightly as she empties herself, is pushing on and may be on her way to gold medal today that, I suspect, very few people will have predicted. It is over a 100 years since Austria won a medal in cycling at the Olympics, what a result this would be.
15km to go
Juliette Labous, the lone Frenchwoman in today's race, has clipped off the front of the peloton.
18.5km to go
Anna Kiesenhoffer is under 20km from the line now and she is leading some of the strongest riders in the world by over four minutes. She's on the final race circuit which has wide open roads, exposed to any wind that is knocking around. Anna Plichta (Poland) and Omer Shapira (Israel) trail the Austrian and as it stands are in the silver and bronze berths, but the peloton may yet catch them.
22km to go
USA has two riders, Chloe Dygert and Coryn Rivera, in the chasing group which is being led by Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa). All four Dutchwomen – Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering and Marianne Vos – are present, as is Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain), Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy).
23km to go
Anna Kiesenhoffer's lead has dropped slightly to a shade below five minutes, but there is a very select group of riders chasing her.
25km to go
Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) puts in an attack, taking with her Olga Zabelinskaya (Uzbekistan), Christine Majerus (Luxembourg), Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland), Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain) and Chloe Dygert (USA),who earlier had been dropped. Shortly after the move, Annemiek van Vleuten is caught!
27km to go
Annemiek van Vleuten has been unable to gain any more time on Anna Kiesenhoffer and, in fact, her lead over the peloton has dropped by quite a bit. Are we watching one of the greatest ever upsets in women's cycling?
33km to go
Anna Kiesenhoffer is doing really well to hold on to her sizeable lead over Annemiek van Vleuten. Remember, the Austrian is a three-time national time trial champion and so this is an ideal situation for her. Interestingly, Kiesenhoffer has been taking extra large water bottles throughout the day to ensure she needs to drop back to her team car as many times as those with the usual sized bidon. That's a very clever strategy in these hot and humid conditions.
37.5km to go
Anna Kiesenhoffer, the Austrian rider who instigated the breakaway, has decided to attack Anna Plichta and Omer Shapira which may play into the hands of Annemiek van Vleuten. What was a race of three riders vs one vs the peloton has become one vs one vs the peloton. The peloton, meanwhile, have not given up but they will be getting no help from Marianne Vos, Anna van der Breggen, Demi Vollering who are not about to chase down a team-mate.
42.5km to go
Annemiek van Vleuten has gained over a minute on the peloton which contains most of the other pre-race favourites, but the Dutchwoman trails by a shade over five minutes. It is a big ask, but if any rider in the world can close a gap like that it is Van Vleuten. Crouched low making her frontal area as small and aerodynamic as she possibly can Van Vleuten slices through the wind ahead of one of the time trials of her life. She shouts to her team car who respond with, presumably, details of the time gap. "Five minutes Annemiek!"
48km to go
Mavi García, the reigning Spanish road champion, is the next to attack out of the peloton but she is followed by Marianne Vos, Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark), Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa), Coryn Rivera (USA), Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain), Anna van der Breggen, Demi Vollering and a handful of others.
50km to go
Chloe Dygert (USA), who many had tipped for the win today, has been dropped by the vastly reduced peloton, while her compatriot Ruth Winder has also fallen out of the back. Annemiek van Vleuten now trails the leading trio by 5min 45sec and she's onto the descent that yesterday I likened to the downhill section where the Dutchwoman crashed in Ri so one suspects the entire Dutch population will be crossing itself right now. The two-time world time trial champion has already gained around 45sec on the peloton.
53km to go | Van Vleuten attacks again!
Marta Bastianelli (Italy), Tiffany Cromwell (Australia), Alison Jackson (Canada) and Marta Lach (Poland) have all been dropped, but the big news is that Annemiek van Vleuten has set off up the road. The Dutchwoman rose out of her saddle before putting in a trademark attack and nobody, absolutely nobody, is able to follow her. In fact, it didn't even look like anybody even bother trying to go with her.
57km to go
Another attack from Annemiek van Vleuten pulls away a few riders. The Dutchwoman flicks her elbow as she asks Katarzyna Niewiadoma to pull through, but the Pole refuses and the group comes back as one, minus a few more who are dropped, including the young Briton Anna Shackley who is a strong climber so that's a bit of a surprise. It also leaves Lizzie Deignan with no team-mates which may be crucial later in the race should she suffer any mechanical issues or require any more water bottles. Next to move the the front is Demi Vollering, before a slight slowing of the group.
58.5km to go
Numerous little attacks, or small accelerations really, have seen all of the big hitters, including Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa), Lizzie Deignan (Great Britain), Chloe Dygert (USA), Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) and Marianne Vos (Netherlands) shift towards the front of the chasing group which trails the breakaway by 8min 35sec. It feels very much like the race is about to kick off and, as expected, the Dutch are at the heart of the action but it is not a given that they will be taking home the gold medal. As we saw with Annemiek van Vleuten's crash, a momentary lapse of concentration can end a riders' Olympic dream within the blink of an eye.
60.5km to go | Van Vleuten attacks!
Annemiek van Vleuten is the next to put in a dig, but she is marked out by Ruth Winder (USA).
61km to go | Vollering attacks!
Here we go. Demi Vollering has clipped off the front of the peloton and nobody has followed her. The injection in pace put in by the talented 24-year-old puts paid to a few rider who slip out of the back of the bunch, mosyt notably Germany's Trixi Worrack.
Van Vleuten crashes!
Emma Norsgaard (Denmark) just hit the deck as she crossed the metal strip in the road where Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart crashed on Saturday. Annemiek van Vleuten, riding with her head down as if looking at her bike computer, rode into Norsgaard's wheel before she, too, hit the asphalt. After untangling her bike with Norsgaard's the Dutchwoman got back on her bike, but this time had no team-mates to help her chase back on.
Having won almost everything she possibly could on the road, the Olympic road race is the one Van Vleuten desperately wants to plug that hole on her palmarès and she must be starting to wonder if the cycling gods are working against her.
Van Vleuten protrected rider?
Marianne Vos has just dropped back out of the peloton to help team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten get back on. Interesting, does this mean that Van Vleuten is the protected rider?
70km to go
Anna van der Breggen has drifted back through the bunch to her team car where she collects an ice pack which she stuffs down the rear of her jersey and has a chat with her sporting director. Back on the front of the bunch it is the Germans who are setting the pace. The breakaway's lead has dropped slightly to around 9min 20sec.
72km to go
Anna van der Breggen, who as we saw at Liège-Bastogne-Liège where she selflessly rode for team-mate Demi Vollering, is pulling on the front of the peloton. She's such a wonderful rider and will next season be in the SDWorx team car working as a sporting director, but today she is playing a team role for her compatriots.
73.5km to go
Catalina Anais Sota (Chile) and Agua Marina Espínola (Paraguay) have been caught by the peloton as they increase the pace. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) is up near the front but has no team-mate with her, while Germany and the Dutch ride on the front.
75km to go
Starting to wonder if the peloton underestimated the strength of the breakaway. Anna Kiesenhoffer (Austria) is a three-time national time trial champion, Anna Plichta has two Polish time trial title and Omer Shapira of Israel has five time trial titles on her palmarès.
Anyway, the breakaway is now onto the Doshi Road ascent and their lead has dropped to just below 10 minutes. The next five kilometres of racing could be key to how this race pans out. Unless the peloton can close that gap then we could be looking at a huge upset.
80km to go
Australia who have a strong four-rider team here today are starting to ride near the front along with Germany, while the Dutch are loitering just behind. Lizzie Deignan is looking relaxed. Given that she has just one team-mate nobody will expect her to help chase down this breakaway which has increased its lead to almost 11 minutes. In what is turning into a game of who will blink first, this may be playing into the hands of Deignan who could get a free ride today. That advantage, though, is much, much bigger than we usually see in women's road racing and remember there are no radios in operation today which can change the dynamic of a race.
85km to go
Carla Oberholzer (South Africa) has now been dropped by the breakaway, leaving Anna Kiesenhoffer (Austria), Anna Plichta (Poland) and Omer Shapira (Israel) out front with a sizeable lead of 10min 18sec. Germany are riding on the front now, the Dutch seemingly gambling that the other nations are going to chase.
90km to go
Vera Looser (Namibia) has been dropped by the breakaway, while the leading quartet's advantage has dropped slightly to 9min 57sec.
95km to go
All change in this race. The Dutch have got their game faces on. Demi Vollering was the first to move to the front of the peloton as the incline increased, the injection in pace shelling a few riders out of the back. Selam Amha was one of those and the Ethiopian looks cooked. Shortly after Vollering's turn on the front, Annemiek van Vleuten who remember suffered that horror crash in this race five years ago in Rio, took over while the four German riders sat on her.
100km to go
The breakaway's advantage has grown to around 10 minutes which although sounds like quite a lead, the horsepower in the peloton should be able to soon rein them in once the road starts to head up into the mountains. I don't think they are too worried just yet – riders in the bunch are looking relaxed, laughing and chatting away.
102.5km to go
Catalina Anais Sota (Chile) and Agua Marina Espínola (Paraguay) have clipped off the front of the peloton, bridged over and beyond Mossana Debesay (Eritrea) and Selam Amha (Ethiopia). As the road starts to rise, Debesay and Amha started to flounder and were unfortunately unable to hold the wheels of the south Americans.
Wiggins: Deignan could get the job done today
Speaking earlier, Sir Bradley Wiggins said that Team GB rider Lizzie Deignan may be able to do the improbable and unpick the Dutch . . .
'She could actually get the job done today and win this race' 🇬🇧@SirWiggo tells @SportsOrla that he believes #TeamGB's Lizzie Deignan has a great chance in todays women's road race 🚴♀️ #Tokyo2020 | #CyclingRoad pic.twitter.com/8bGXpl7ZoF
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) July 25, 2021
110km to go
The breakaway's lead has grown out to a shade below seven minutes.
112.5km to go
Antri Christoforou of Cyprus has been delayed after suffering a mechanical issue. Although she dropped her bike to the ground, the 29-year-old remained calm and took a new ride from the neutral service vehicle and it looks a little too big for the 166cm tall rider. She's ploughing on though and appears to be looking a round for her team car who will have her spare bike. Not an ideal scenario for her.
115km to go
The peloton has gained a fairly large lead of 4min 31sec over the peloton, while the move from Mossana Debesay (Eritrea) and Selam Amha (Ethiopia) looks doomed – they are 4min 4sec off the pace. One suspects once the race reaches the first climb of the day the stronger teams will get to work and start reeling them in.
If you are new to cycling and are wondering why Austria has just one rider competing in the race (Anna Kiesenhoffer, who is in the breakaway), but the Dutch has four – the maximum permitted in today's race – then don't worry almost everybody asks. Team sizes are determined by the number of UCI (International Cycling Union, cycling's world governing body) points earned by riders from its federation in the year preceding the competition (in this case 2019). In short, the stronger nations – Australia, Germany, Italy, USA and, of course, the Dutch – get more slots, while the less strong nations receive fewer. In the heat and humidity team-mates will play a key role as they drop back to the cars to collect water bottles and fuel.
125km to go
Team GB riders Anna Shackley and Lizzie Deignan have positioned themselves near the head of the peloton, while defending Olympic Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands), who is retiring from racing at the end of the season, is near the back. Incidentally, Shackley is a trade team-mate (SDWorx) of Van der Breggen and Demi Vollering so will have a good understanding of how the Dutchwomen work.
Keeping cool in the heat of battle
Coryn Rivera (USA), winner of a stage at the recent Giro Donne, was just spotted dropping back to a team car to take a drink or some ice to help keep her cool. Managing the heat and humidity today, as it was in yesterday's men's race, will be absolutely key. Shortly afterwards Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig (Denmark) does the same and has a long conversation with her sporting director.
130km to go
Mossana Debesay (Eritrea) has joined forces with Selam Amha (Ethiopia) in pursuit of the breakaway, however that quintet is working well together and riding hard so they will have to give it beans. The breakaway leads the peloton by around 1min 20sec.
Anna Kiesenhoffer (Austria), Vera Looser (Namibia), Carla Oberholzer (South Africa), Anna Plichta (Poland), Omer Shapira (Israel) wasted little time in getting off up the road and the peloton appears happy, for now at least, while Selam Amha (Ethiopia) is attempting to bridge her way over to that quintet of riders.
And they're off!
The riders have navigated their way through the neutralised section of the race, passing by some beautiful looking temples and some surprisingly big crowds, and the officials have got the racing under way proper. Interesting to note that the Dutch squad had opted to wear cooling vests which were removed at the last minute and it was Marianne Vos who took those vests off her team-mates and dropped off to her team car. Is this a sign that Vos is working as a domestique here today, or more likely that she's just a great human?
Calm before the storm
Hello folks, and welcome to our live rolling blog from the women's Olympic road race, the 137-kilometre drag from Musashinonomori Park to Fuji International Speedway in Japan. The 67-rider peloton – yes it is a very small field of riders, but one that packs a punch – is currently tapping away through a 10km neutralised section before racing gets under way. The four Dutchwomen who are widely expected to dominate the race are positioned on the frontline, just behind the race official's car, and looking relaxed. In Anna van der Breggen, Annemiek van Vleuten, Demi Vollering and Marianne Vos the Dutch squad has four possible winners of this race today.
So, what's on the menu today?
Unlike the men's event, the women's race disappointingly features neither the long ascent of Mount Fuji, nor the brutal looking Mikuni Pass which proved a selective point. There is, however, around 2,500 metres in vertical elevation over just 137 kilometres of racing.
The two featured climbs are Doshi Road, which tops out at 79.5km into the race and is 4.7km in length at an average gradient of 6.2%. This is followed shortly afterwards by the Kagosaka Pass (2.2km at 4.8%) which peaks 95.5km into the race and is followed by a descent towards the Fuji International Speedway track and then an undulating road. There is a small climb around 7km from the line – the point where Richard Carapaz dropped Brandon McNulty on Saturday – which may offer riders a final opportunity to shake off any unwanted rivals should a small group still be riding together.
Starting list in full . . .
Julie Van de Velde
Catalina Anais Sota
Maria Jose Vargas
Paula Andrea Patiño
Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig
Elisa Longo Borghini
Lizbeth Yareli Salazar
Anna van der Breggen
Annemiek van Vleuten
Agua Marina Espínola
Trinidad & Tobago
Van Vleuten: Olympics as opportunity to showcase women's cycling
Dutch favourite Annemiek van Vleuten says winning the Olympic road race at the Tokyo Games on Sunday would rank below her three world titles because she is facing a lower-quality field.
Only 67 riders will start the women's race, which is also considerably shorter than the men's event and will not tackle the famous Mount Fuji climb.
"The level of such an Olympic competition is qualitatively the lowest level of all races during four years," Van Vleuten told reporters in the build-up to today's race.
"Half of the good riders are at home. Many countries only send one. Many I don't even know.
"I have made it a mission to point this out to people, to wake them up, to put its importance into perspective.
"You did the women short. Fortunately, the rule has changed."
Equality in women's cycling has been a running battle in the sport and a women's Tour de France will finally return next year after year's of campaigning by the likes of Van Vleuten's Dutch team-mate and former Olympic champion Marianne Vos.
Governing body the UCI has said that the 2024 Paris Olympics will have 90 riders in both the men's and women's road races.
"At the next Games, the men's and women's peloton will be the same," said Van Vleuten, who crashed heavily at the Rio Games in sight of victory.
"Great, goal achieved. But I still think a world title is more important than an Olympic one.
"An incredibly beautiful jersey, achieved in a strong field of participants, with national teams in normal size. Let me put it this way: the Olympic title is half a percent below it.
"But it's still special because it's once every four years. The game is widely watched. It is therefore also a moment to showcase women's cycling, even if it is not representative."
The women's road race is 137km long with 2,692 metres of elevation gain. Reuters