By Richard Windsor published
Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria) took a remarkable victory to upset the favourites in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games road race, riding solo from the breakaway with 41km to go.
The Austrian had been part of the early break which escaped from the gun and was given a healthy advantage of over 10 minutes by the peloton.
With the break down to three over the main climbs of the 137km course, Kiesenhofer attacked Omer Shapira (Israel) and Anna Plitcha (Poland) with 41km to go and set off all alone.
With a five-minute gap, the biggest threat to her lead came when Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) attacked and tried to bridge across from the peloton. The Dutchwoman couldn't prevent the peloton from reeling her back in though, leaving Kiesenhofer up the road with over five minutes in hand.
Shapira and Plitcha were eventually caught with just over 4km to go after a concerted chase from the Dutch. That allowed Van Vleuten to make a late attack and hold off the peloton and take silver, but she could do nothing to stop Kiesenhofer from celebrating her shock gold medal.
Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) also broke clear of the bunch to take third and the bronze medal.
How it happened
The 67 riders selected to ride in the women's Olympic road race set off from Musashinonomori Park on a sweltering day, with 137km and over 2,500m of climbing on the cards.
From the flag drop a breakaway went clear, with five riders - Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria), Carla Oberholzer (South Africa), Vera Looser (Namibia), Omer Shapira (Israel), and Anna Plitcha (Poland) - getting an early advantage of five minutes.
Heading on to the race’s longest climb, the Donushi Pass, the breakaway’s advantage was steadily growing with everyone looking to the Dutch team to do the pulling in the peloton.
With 86km to go the gap was well over 10 minutes, but the long climb had taken its toll on the breakaway and only Kiesenhofer, Shapira, and Plitcha were able to remain out front.
There was still no concerted chase from the peloton at this point, with the Germans taking some control, but still the Dutch were the team being leant on to reel in the breakaway with their four superstars, Demi Vollering, Annemiek van Vleuten, Marianne Vos, and defending champion Anna van der Breggen.
With just under 70km to go things looked like they might be getting worse for the Netherlands as Van Vleuten was brought down in a crash with Emma Norsgaard (Denmark). She was able to remount her bike though and eventually worked her way back to the bunch.
As the gap continued to stay at around 10 minutes, movement surely had to start coming from the peloton. Demi Vollering was the first to try, but anyone aiming to escape was simply tracked by those riders with few team-mates.
That was until Van Vleuten went on the attack with over 55km to go. She was able to drop everyone with a stinging acceleration on the climb, and quickly built an advantage of around a minute.
All the attacking had hampered the advantage of the breakaway, with the leading three now down to five minutes with Van Vleuten in pursuit.
Onto the next climb, the Kagosaka Pass, the breakaway had over six minutes on the peloton, and over five on Van Vleuten. Anna Kiesenhofer could clearly sense her companions tiring though and decided to attack them on the climb and ride away solo with 41km to go.
That looked like a foolhardy move initially, but over the next 15km or so she simply held the gap as it was, with Van Vleuten eventually falling back to the peloton with just under 25km remaining.
With just over 20km to go it was on to the Fuji International Speedway track for the first time for Kiesenhofer, with still over four minutes in hand. Shapira and Plitcha, meanwhile, were in between the lone leader and the peloton at around two minutes, fighting to hold on to potentially claim silver and bronze.
In the peloton the chase was still being slowed by constant attacking, and it was only with 9km to go did the Dutch then fully commit all four of their riders to the chase.
It was too little, too late to do anything about Kiesenhofer, who still led by three minutes, but the efforts of the Dutch team did see them eventually catch Shapira and Plitcha with just over 4km to go.
The catch then sparked numerous attacks, including from Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland), but nothing could stick until Anna van der Breggen made a move, which was instantly followed by Van Vleuten when her team-mate was caught. That allowed Van Vleuten to slip away on the motor circuit, with only Elisa Longo Borghini able to pursue.
Out front it was clear Kiesenhofer was set to ride solo to an incredible victory, and she was eventually able to sit up on the finishing straight and celebrate across the line in disbelief.
Van Vleuten crossed the line alone for second place 1-15 later, with Long Borghini coming in to take bronze just ahead of Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) and the remnants of the peloton.
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, women's road race: Musashinonomori Park to Fuji International Speedway (137km)
1. Anna Kiesenhofer (Aut), in 3-52-45
2. Annemiek van Vleuten (Ned), at 1-15
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Ita), at 1-29
4. Lotte Kopecky (Bel), at 1-39
5. Marianne Vos (Ned), at 1-46
6. Lisa Brennauer (Ger)
7. Coryn Rivera (USA)
8. Marta Cavalli (Ita)
9. Olga Zabelinskaya (Uzb)
10. Cecille Uttrup Ludwig (Den), all at same time
Richard is digital editor of Cycling Weekly. Joining the team in 2013, Richard became editor of the website in 2014 and coordinates site content and strategy, leading the news team in coverage of the world's biggest races and working with the tech editor to deliver comprehensive buying guides, reviews, and the latest product news.
An occasional racer, Richard spends most of his time preparing for long-distance touring rides these days, or getting out to the Surrey Hills on the weekend on his Specialized Tarmac SL6 (with an obligatory pub stop of course).
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