In one of the biggest surprise victories in Olympic road racing history, Austrian rider Anna Kiesenhofer rode to Olympic gold in Tokyo today, with Annemiek van Vleuten and Elisa Longo Borghini rounding out the podium.
Kiesenhofer attacked from the drop of the flag along with Carla Oberholzer, Vera Looser, Omer Shapira and Anna Plichta, and built up a lead that stretched to 11 minutes at one point. Back in the peloton, a series of moves came from the likes of Demi Vollering, Ruth Winder and Anna van der Breggen, with the field eventually being reduced to less than 30 riders under the strain of the increased pace.
With just over 50km remaining, Van Vleuten launched an attack, which saw the gap to the leaders cut in half. It was on the Kagosaka Pass that Kiesenhofer made a race-defining move, dropping the two remaining riders in the break. Despite her efforts, Van Vleuten was then reeled back by the reduced bunch with 25km of racing remaining, and the field arrived at the finishing circuit with Shapira, Plichta and Kiesenhofer still out front. With the two former breakaway riders being caught in the final 5km, the team of the Netherlands readied themselves for the finish, with Van Vleuten attacking in the last 2km and Elisa Longo Borghini following in pursuit.
However, unbeknownst to the European champion, who raised her arms in victory as she arrived at the finish, Kiesenhofer had already on crossed the line 1:15 minutes prior to claim a historic gold medal, and in so doing, became the first Austrian rider to stand atop the Olympic podium since Adolf Schmal won the 12-hour track competition in the 1896 games in Athens.
Anna Kiesenhofer: “I had planned to attack from kilometre zero and I was happy to be able to put myself at the front. I’m happy that I wasn’t too scared and just dared to do it. I attacked and in the group we more or less worked together. I saw that I was the strongest and I knew I could use the climb before the long descent. Since I’m pretty good in the downhills, I was able to get some more time out and then it was like a time trial until the finish […] In the end, I just tried to reach the line. My legs were completely empty. I have never exerted myself like that in my life. I could barely pedal. It felt like there was no energy left in my legs at all […] It’s just incredible. I really sacrificed so much for this day. I didn’t expect to perform like this. I would have sacrificed everything for a top-15 finish too, but to have this triumph now for all the effort is such a great reward.”