Anna Kiesenhofer holds off Dutch challenge to land shock gold in Olympic road race

Austrian cyclist crosses finish line more than a minute ahead of rivals

Austria's Anna Kiesenhofer produced one of the shock results of the Tokyo Olympics so far by storming to gold in the women's road race on Sunday - such a shock that second-placed Dutchwoman Annemiek van Vleuten mistakenly thought she had won.

The 30-year-old national time trial champion Kiesenhofer, who holds a doctorate in applied mathematics from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia having also studied at Vienna and Cambridge Universities, held her nerve after a long breakaway that the main peloton never managed to reel in.

A race that was expected to be dominated by a heralded Dutch quartet, Kiesenhofer crossed the finish line more than a minute ahead of her nearest rivals.

Drenched in sweat, she collapsed to the ground after securing victory, screaming in delight, hands on helmet in near-disbelief.

"It's incredible, I couldn't believe it, even when I crossed the line," said Kiesenhofer. "I planned to attack at kilometre zero and I was happy I could get in front. That is something I could not take for granted because I am not good at riding in the peloton.

"I am happy that I was not too scared and I just went for it. I attacked and with the group we worked more or less together – it was helpful to have a group. I saw I was the strongest and I knew I had the climb before the long descent.

"I'm pretty good at descending so I got some more time and then it was just like a time trial to the finish."

Van Vleuten made up for a horrific crash at the Rio Games in 2016 with silver, although she admitted to a massive error after thinking she had won gold when she crossed the line. Italian Elisa Longo Borghini bagged bronze for the second consecutive Games.

"Yes, I thought I had won," she said. "I'm gutted about this, of course. At first I felt really stupid, but then the others (her teammates) also did not know who had won."

In a dramatic finale to a long day's ride, the peloton reeled in France's Juliette Labous and with under four kilometres to go, the gap to Kiesenhofer was cut to under three minutes.

First, two-time world champion Anna van der Breggen, who was targeting back-to-back golds after winning in Rio, and then Van Vleuten cut loose at the 2km mark, but it was much too late.

Kiesenhofer shot through the 1km run-in smiling and constantly looking over her shoulder in full knowledge that the gold was hers in a massive upset.

As with the men's road race, tens of thousands of Japanese fans lined the gruelling 137km route between Musashinonomori Park and the Fuji International Speedway that featured 2,692 metres of elevation gain.

There was earlier drama for Van Vleuten after the 38-year-old took a tumble when Denmark's Emma Joergensen veered into her path after falling. The 2019 world road race champion quickly regathered her senses and moved back into the peloton.

But Kiesenhofer held a five-minute advantage over Van Vleuten for large parts of the race, pushing the pace on a solo descent off Kagosaka Pass 40km from the finish to drop early breakaway partners, Israel's Omer Shapira and Polish rider Anna Plichta.

With 24km to go, Van Vleuten was reeled back in by a 14-strong chasing group, stretched out as riders sought to surge.

Hitting speeds of 60km/h on the Fuji race track, Labous was first to push out before the Dutch quartet manoeuvred into an attacking position, but they could do nothing about Kiesenhofer's surprise victory in the shadow of Mount Fuji.

Updated: July 25th 2021, 11:05 AM
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