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July 25/21 10:25 am - Austrian Wins Women's Road Race as Dutch Favourites Miscalculate

Posted by Editoress on 07/25/21

In a somewhat ironic twist, the Olympic gold in the women's road race was won by an Austrian mathematician; partially because the powerhouse Dutch team couldn't count. Anna Kiesenhofer took the gold medal after being in the break all race, including the final 40 kilometres solo. The Netherland's Annemiek van Vleuten took silver, initially celebrating as if she had won gold until she was informed that another rider had finished two minutes earlier, while Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy took bronze - the same position she finished in four years earlier in Rio.



Anna Kiesenhofe takes the gold



L to r Podium: Annemiek van Vleuten, Anna Kiesenhofer, Elisa Longo Borghini

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Karol Ann Canuel was the top Canadian finisher in 16th, just behind the chase group, while Alison Jackson was 32nd and Leah Kirchmann 36th.

The Dutch team came into the race as overwhelming favourites with four riders who, individually would have been favoured - van Vleuten, 2016 Olympic champion Anna van der Breggen, 2012 Olympic champion Marianne Vos and Demi Vollering, multi-time winner this season on the World Tour. The Italians and the U.S. were also in the race with strong squads.

While some are blaming the lack of race radios for the result, it was just as much a lack of effort by the Dutch. As expected, an early break went away almost as soon as the race started, with five riders - Kiesenhofer, Carla Oberholzer of South Africa, Vera Looser of Namibia, Israel's Omer Shapira and Polish rider Anna Plitcha. Looser and Oberholzer were dropped, but the other three forged a lead of nearly 11 minutes ahead of the complacent peloton. While the gap came down slowly, the front three were still working well together, until Kiesenhofer decided to attack solo with 40 kilometres remaining. She quickly opened a two minute gap on the two chasers, with the peloton sitting a further four minutes back, and rode her own race; it was not a pretty, graceful ride as she pounded on the pedals, but it was a powerful one.

At 10 kilometres to go, Kiesenhofer had 2:35 on Plitcha and Shapira, with the chase group - I use that term advisedly - of around 20 at four minutes [including Canuel]. French rider Juliette Labous was dangling just off the front of the chase group. Entering the Fuji Speedway for the final 1.5 laps and at six kilometres to go, Kiesenhofer still had 3:30 on the chase group, who only rolled up Plitcha and Shapira at 4.5 kilometres.

At this point, it appears that the Dutch thought they were now at the front of the race and started setting up van Vleuten, who finally jumped with less then two kilometres to go, just as Kiesenhofer was in her final kilometre and starting to realize that she had won. Longo Borghini went in solo pursuit of van Vleuten, who celebrated crossing the line, believe she was the Olympic champion.



Annemiek van Vleuten celebrates, only to be told later she was the silver medalists


The fact that there was still a rider up the road was not - or should not have been - a surprise; the motorcycle with the timing board regularly sat in front of the bunch showing the gap and number of riders ahead. Later in the race, when all but Kiesenhofer were caught, the red official's car remained behind the bunch - if there was no one ahead, it would have gone in front of bunch; these are experienced pros and should have known that - and Longo Borghini said afterwards she was aware that one rider was still up the road.

However, the Dutch didn't take control of the race; they would occasionally send a rider to the front, or on a testing attack, but there was no sense that they wanted to make the race hard and thin the field. Was it hubris? The belief that they could power away at the end? To be fair, van Vleuten did exactly that, but Dutch excuses about confusion and lack of information are just that, excuses.

Van der Breggen sort of did admit that, eventually: "In the full finale you can't go to the car and the last time gap we had was 1'30 and we thought that was the lead. So we tried to catch that group not pushing any harder. This is the only race without communications. The break takes 11 minutes. You should count how many riders are caught. We went to [the team] car but in the final you count. I started counting and we calculated it was okay but we didn’t have the right info. From many sides it was confusing. The tactics weren't wrong, we just had not the right info. With our info we did all things right. I didn't know Kiesenhofer. [Did we] underestimate her? I can't underestimate a rider I don't know."

Instead, let's celebrate an extremely gutsy ride by a rider who had no team mates but wouldn't give up.

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Olympic Games: Women's Road Race results


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