Tokyo 2020 Olympics – Anna Kiesenhofer wins women’s road race in seismic shock as Dutch super squad blow it
Before the Olympic Games, Kiesenhofer posted on Instagram: "Thanks to everybody who believes in me - you were my motivation when the going got tough. Thanks to those who doubt me - to prove you wrong was just as much motivation". She was right... Watch every unmissable moment live from Tokyo 2020 across Eurosport, Eurosport app and discovery+.
'One of the greatest performances of all time' - Kiesenhofer wins road race gold
Anna Kiesenhofer is not a name many of us were too familiar with before today, but it’s one that none who watched the Tokyo 2020 road race will ever forget. The Austrian led a group of “lesser” riders away at kilometre zero, stayed with them for almost 100, before soloing to the most impressive victory, and the biggest upset, you will ever see in cycling.
To say that the Netherlands team, containing the four out and out favourites, messed it up, is to take nothing away from Keisenhofer’s performance. But they did.
In fairness to the Dutch, as did the other bigger teams: the Americans, the Germans, the Italians, the Aussies.
Firstly by allowing the break to build up such a big lead. Kiesenhofer herself was the rider who started it. Along with four others, including only one with a full-time WorldTour job, she turned her own pedals, urged them to do the same, organised them into a coherent unit. Certainly a sight more so than the large group behind, containing several dozen bigger name professionals.
When the gap hit five minutes, we were in an unusual situation; when it topped ten, it became an unprecedented one. For although we’re used to such things in men’s cycling and, indeed, saw a large gap dissolve over a small distance only yesterday, in the women’s game, that just doesn’t happen.
'I was wrong!' - Heartbreak as Van Vleuten wrongly believes she's won gold
Still the peloton didn’t seem bothered, and as the kilometres ticked by, none were stirred into action. Without radios they wouldn't have had the kind of information or instructions from their employers, they might have been used to; nor was it as tactically straightforward for them as it was for the break, who knew all they had to do was give everything. Still, that’s no excuse for the complacency that was shown today.
The women up front pushed on. The group of five, made up of Kiesenhofer, Israel’s Omer Shapira, Vera Looser of Namibia, Carla Oberholzer from South Africa and Anna Plichter of Poland would not be a quintet for long but nor would they need to. First the Namibian fell away on the climb up the Doushi Road, then Oberholzer, leaving a trio of experienced riders - one for each available medal. Halfway through the race they all had good legs and plenty of motivation.
There were (at least) three good reasons not to underestimate them, and still there were no signs of urgency at the head of the peloton.
Not before there was 60km of road left to ride - four or five more than that for the bunch, and not much more uphill - did we see any moves behind. What we saw, rather than controlled, tactical attacks, was panic. First Vollering tried and failed, then Anniemiek van Vleuten surged in similar style to the way we’ve seen her do so countless times before.
The situation was very different to any we’d seen before, but still we expected it to produce a similar result. We were wrong. Not only did Van Vleuten fail to make up much ground on the escapees but she barely built up more than a minute over the bunch, either. A wasted effort that came at her own expense, as well as that of her team-mates.
When Kiesenhofer left her colleagues to go solo, armchair pundits considered the sense of doing so. At that point it was woman v woman, and the advantage seemed to swing somewhat back in Van Vleuten’s favour. Not for long, though, and as Kiesenhofer eased onto the Fuji International Speedway circuit for the first time, Van Vleuten was absorbed back into the bunch.
'Nowhere to go!' - Van Vleuten flies over handlebars in crash
The producers seemed to have forgotten about Shapira and Plichter, but suddenly they were on our screens once more, still with more than two minutes over a diminished and disorganised peloton. Gold was gone, but could bronze and silver go to an all-day break as well?
It could not. On the second circuit of the track, the twenty or so remaining from the peloton overtook the Canyon Sram and Lotto Soudal riders. That Kiesenhofer was deflating was evident in her facial expressions, but that deflation was happening slowly enough for her to keep the pedals turning. Crucially, at no point did she pop.
Her victory margin was more than a minute at the finish. A late attack from Annemiek van Vleuten was enough for her to secure silver - which she seemed to believe was actually gold - while Elisa Longo Borghini finished fifteen seconds later for bronze.
Was there too much competition in the Dutch team? Possibly, but that is too simplistic an explanation, and unfair on the new Olympic champion.
“Looking back it was a mistake to let it go so far,” Marianne Vos told Orla Chennaoui afterwards, “but it’s easy to say that after the race. It’s such a small team that it’s not easy to make the right decisions. We didn’t think Kiesenhofer would be so strong.”
Clearly they didn’t, but though they could - and should - have done almost anything differently, the record of this race should not focus on the failings of four Dutch riders, it should be one about one Austrian woman’s remarkable success.
“I had a plan to attack," she said, after collecting her gold medal. "I didn’t plan to win, but I wanted to leave my life on the road.”
Remember her name: Anna Kiesenhofer. Tell people what she did. It was the very best of this, and any sport.
- - -
Watch every unmissable moment live from Tokyo 2020 across Eurosport, Eurosport app and discovery+. Download the Eurosport app for iOS and Android now.