Armitstead is dropped
The Rio 2016 Olympic Games women’s road race had been a war of attrition from start to finish, with the six of the peloton whittled down to a select lead group by the time they tackled the steepest part of punishing last climb of the day, the Vista Chinesa, with 21km to go.
Although not her usual territory, Great Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead put in a measured ride up the climb to try and limit her losses to the climbers but had work to do to catch back up after the summit.
Van Vleuten attacks
Utilising the steepest part of the final climb, Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) attacked from the lead group to create a small gap in what looked like a race-winning move.
Only Mara Abbott (USA) had the legs to chase her, eventually catching her on the ascent. The pace of the attack made it harder for dropped riders, including Armitstead, to catch up.
Abbott and van Vleuten together
After getting into contact with van Vleuten on the climb, Abbott and the Dutchwoman hit the descent together and it looked as though they were in a position to fight for the gold and silver medals with a significant gap over the chasers.
Van Vleuten crashes
Van Vleuten had distanced Abbott on the tight, twisting descent under the thick tree canopy but crashed heavily on a right-hand tight bend. Her race was over.
After medical checks, it was discovered that van Vleuten had three fractures in her vertebrae and took to social media to say: “I am now in the hospital with some injuries and fractures, but will be fine. Most of all super disappointed after best race of my career.”
Abbott completed the descent on her own, and then faced the 10km flat run to the finish. She fought on solo with Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands), Emma Johansson (Sweden) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) chasing her down.
Agonisingly, Abbott was caught in the final 150 metres and missed out on a medal as van der Breggen won the sprint ahead of Johansson with Longo Borghini in third.
Armitstead had been part of a second chase group that had failed to make any headway into catching the group containing van der Breggen along the coast road to the finish. Armitstead took the sprint for fifth place, 20 seconds down on the winner.
Armitstead said after the race: “I couldn’t have climbed any faster. I’m happy with the tactic I had, I just simply wasn’t good enough at climbing, so I can be proud of the effort I did”. The Dutch team both celebrated the victory and dealt with the shock of team-mate van Vleuten’s crash.
Pictures from BBC