Five talking points from the Tokyo Olympics women's road race

A surprise winner and communication confusion provided an intriguing women's road race in Japan

Anna Kiesenhofer

Anna Kiesenhofer

(Image credit: Getty)

One of the best things about the Olympics is being introduced to new stories from obscure sports you don't normally follow. For those who were already cycling fans, they were also treated to meeting a new champion in Tokyo.

Regular viewers of women's cycling are unlikely to have seen that much of Anna Kiesenhofer, but there was little doubt as to her ability after winning the women's road race from the day's breakaway to take Austria's first Olympic cycling medal since 1896.

Kiesenhofer is more than a bike rider, though, currently a teacher and researcher at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, having previously studied at the University of Cambridge and got her PhD in Mathematics in Catalonia.

Rouleur's Andy McGrath interviewed her in 2016, explaining Kiesenhofer took up cycling while at Cambridge due to persistent running injuries, finishing dead last in a British universities league 10-mile time trial in 2012 at a time of 34-25. How things change.

After a win of this stature, the 30-year-old could likely entertain multiple contract offers to go pro (she did previously ride for Lotto-Soudal Ladies in 2017) but that's not in Kiesenhofer's plan currently.

Regardless of how often we see our new Olympic champion on the road before the next Games in 2024, she's put her name in the history books as one of the least likely road race winners.

Dutch claim communication confusion

The Netherlands

(Image credit: Getty)

Annemiek van Vleuten's raised arms across the line as she took silver seemed like more of a victory celebration at the time, and it soon transpired that she did indeed believe she'd taken gold.

With no race radios the Olympics is made extra different and difficult to the usual high-profile WorldTour events, meaning riders have to rely more on motorbikes holding up information of the gaps on the road.

Defending champion Anna van der Breggen says she couldn't make much sense of these, as television viewers watching live sat puzzled as to why the Dutch weren't chasing down Kiesenhofer with more impetuous.

With a squad containing Van Vleuten, Van der Breggen, Marianne Vos and Demi Vollering, it was always going to be the Netherlands' race to lose, just no-one would have expected them to lose it in this fashion.

Lotte Kopecky pays attention to the break and just misses out on medal

Lotte Kopecky

(Image credit: Getty)

One rider who was under no false pretences as to their position at the finish line was Lotte Kopecky, the Belgian shaking her head as she crossed the line in fourth, having just missed out on the podium.

She said her one mistake of the day was not following Elisa Longo Borghini, the Italian taking bronze 10 seconds ahead, and that she had counted the breakaway riders as they went and so knew there were more out on the road.

Despite Kopecky having kept her wits about her, Lizzie Deignan was another, like the Dutch, who thought Van Vleuten had won, saying as much in the mixed zone after the race in an interview with the BBC. All in all, a bizarre twist to the road cycling in Tokyo.

Elisa Longo Borghini takes another podium in 2021

Elisa Longo Borghini

(Image credit: Getty)

The Italian was delighted with her bronze medal, adding to a plethora of podium places already this year, at prestigious races including Strade Bianche, Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

Having won both road and time trial national titles earlier in the year, as well as Trofeo Binda, it's turning into quite the 2021 for Longo Borghini.

With Alberto Bettiol's 14th in the men's road race, as well as a single-figure turnout at the recent Tour de France, there's a convincing argument to be made that Elisa Longo Borghini is currently carrying the lion's share of Italian hopes at the top level of the sport.

And now, the time trial

Chloe Dygert

(Image credit: Getty)

The madness of road racing now gives way to the simple measure of rider and bike versus the clock.

The women take on 22.1km of TT kilometres, the men 44.2km, lumpy courses that widen the list of possible victors.

Will Wout van Aert go one better than his silver in the road race? How will Remco Evenepoel fare? Can Geraint Thomas finally turn his luck around?

And the Dutch riders will be looking to rectify their misfiring in the road race with a time trialling gold. A Dutchwoman hasn't won since Athens 2004, Kristin Armstrong taken three consecutive golds, and another American called Chloe Dygert could continue that run for the United States.

Jonny Long

Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.


Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).


I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.