Dutch riders thought they were racing for gold in Tokyo Olympics women's road race

The Netherlands team thought they'd brought back all of the breakaway riders in a confusing finale

Annemiek van Vleuten
(Image credit: Getty)

Annemiek van Vleuten came across the line on the Fuji International Speedway circuit at the Tokyo Olympics with her hands aloft, the 38-year-old having attacked after Omer Shapira (Israel) and Anna Plitcha (Poland) had been brought back in the closing kilometres.

Then, stopping at her soigneur, the realisation dawned that there had still been one rider up the road. "Ruud, I was wrong," Van Vleuten said. "I didn't realise anything."

Anna Kiesenhofer had indeed stayed away, a super strong performance to take an unexpected gold, the Austrian collapsing to the floor after the finish such was the magnitude of the amateur rider's achievement. The Dutch team, meanwhile, looked absolutely shellshocked.

"It's a lot about the miscommunication now, but I'd also like to say that I was here at my best," Van Vleuten said in the mixed zone afterwards, emotional. "And that I am proud of myself for dragging silver out of it after such a race."

>>> Anna Kiesenhofer takes shock solo victory in Tokyo 2020 Olympics women's road race

The defending champion, Anna van der Breggen, says the communication in the race was confusing, and that the Dutch squad did indeed think they were riding for gold.

"It was very confusing anyway," Van der Breggen said. "The final was also confusing. At one point we thought, 'that's going well' and we took back the Polish and the Israeli. And at that point, we thought we were riding for the win. And in the end we weren't. That is just very unfortunate.”

Van der Breggen explained that while riders could get information from their team cars, with radios not being used in the Olympic road races, you couldn't in the finale, when the information was most needed.

“It was a race without communication and the leading group took ten minutes in the beginning. You should actually count how many are coming back and how many are still ahead. We can go to the car to get information, so we did. But in the final you don't do that anymore. There was also some confusion as I saw 1-35 on a board so according to our calculations it was good and we would make it. But in the end it turned out that another number was from the front riders over those who were still there. It was just confusing from several sides. The engine wasn't there much. And then something like that happens.”

It seems like the Dutch weren't the only ones, as Britain's Lizzie Deignan said in an interview with the BBC after the race that Annemiek van Vleuten was a deserving winner, althought Belgium's Lotte Kopecky, who finished fourth, seemed to realise her place just outside the medal spots as she shook her head across the line.

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