Tokyo Women | Road Race
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Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria is the Olympic champion!
Kenny could be tempted to push for place at Paris 2024
Anniemiek van Vleuten solos home to take a silver medal. Elisa Longo Borghini claims bronze.
1km to go: Kiesenhofer goes through the flamme rouge
All she has to do is keep pedalling at this point. The most remarkable ride I've ever seen in cycling has produced one of the biggest upsets in living memory.
4km to go: Game over for Shapira and Plichta
The race for silver and bronze is on. The chasers have a renewed motivation, with some of them very keen for it not to come down to a sprint. Kasia Niewadoma launches one; Van Vleuten tries something; Moolman Pasio is still there.
6km to go: All four Dutch riders are still at the front of the bunch
Taking absolutely nothing away from the Austrian rider, as well as the Israeli and the Polish woman, but if that doesn’t tell you how massively the team in orange have mucked this up, then nothing will. They’ve cancelled each other out, in true Movistar style. Well done to them for showing that it doesn’t just happen in men’s cycling, at least.
13km to go: The peloton takes the bell
Kiesenhofer took it four minutes ago. She’s starting to rock and roll, grimacing a bit more than she has been, but she’d have to blow completely to lose it at this point. There’ll be plenty of neutrals urging her on and - if Twitter is anything to go by - plenty of non-neutrals as well.
Juliette Labous of France tries something, Leah Thomas for the USA goes in pursuit of her. It’s all too little, too late, though.
18km to go: Still two riders between the leader and the bunch
The TV producer gives us our first glimpse of Shapira and Plichta for a while. It’s impressive that they’ve stayed together and are still plugging away. Although gold is all but gone, with more than two minutes of buffer, I don’t think it’s a given that silver and bronze will go to riders from the group of favourites either.
22km to go: Kiesenhofer is on track
Quite literally, the Fuji International speedway circuit. Van Vleuten’s solo ride has come to nothing, as Niewiadoma goes past her with ease. A dozen or so riders from a mix of countries, are all looking each other, squabbling a bit, and now riding for silver and bronze at best.
26km to go: The peloton can smell blood
With the gap to Van Vleuten at less than 30 seconds, Lotte Kopecky (Belgium), Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland), Christine Majerus (Luxembourg) and Olga Zabelinskaya (Uzbekistan) go off in pursuit. There are medals at stake here, and no organisation, as the road starts to go up again.
35km to go: The peloton is pulling Van Vleuten back
If the time gaps are to be trusted, the Movistar rider doesn’t seem to have established a huge advantage over the peloton, despite riding alone for almost 20km.
We have seen Van Vleuten perform seemingly impossible feats in the past, most notably at the Worlds in Yorkshire, but she’s only human, after all.
39km to go: Kiesenhofer goes solo
Presumably her two colleagues ran out of legs, but that definitely makes it easier for Van Vleuten. She is riding a very steady tempo, and as she has the composure to take a musette from a helper, she clearly has more to give.
43km to go: I’m calling it
For the breakaway. Van Vleuten is almost 4km behind Shapira, Kiesenofer and Plichta, and unless she effectively goes twice as fast as the three in front, there’s just not enough road left - especially considering how much of it is descent. The peloton all but appear to have abandoned the chase, as a number of dropped riders restore contact.
47km to go: Can the chasers sort themselves out?
Mavi Garcia goes off in pursuit of Van Vleuten, an attack to which Marianne is tasked with responding, swiftly shutting the Spanish rider down. There are some strong non-Dutch riders left, including Kasia Niewiadoma and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig, but the other nations are going to have to cooperate far better than they usually do if they expect to get anything out of this race. No egos, no looking around at your rivals to do the work. If you want a medal, you have to just go.
51km to go: Annemiek van Vleuten makes her move
With Uzbekistan’s Olga Zabelinskaya driving the bunch, Annemiek van Vleuten decides it’s now or never. She launches what Dani King describes as an “all or nothing” attack, that will either work or it won’t. AVV looks down at her head unit, checking her power numbers. One place she can’t look is behind. Making up more than six minutes on her own is a big ask, though.
56km to go: The winnowing begins
The Dutch are finally making things hard and we’re seeing the effects. Teniel Campbell of Trinidad and Tobago has fallen away as, somewhat surprisingly, have two Australians, Amanda Spratt and Grace Brown. Great Britain’s Anna Shackley has also been distanced.
The peloton is down to less than thirty riders at this point. The Americans are looking super strong, and so is the German squad.
58km to go: Attacks coming thick and fast now
The Dutch are using their numbers to their advantage and taking it in turns to take swings at the bunch. None of them have translated into anything significant so far, but the riders are looking around at each other and it seems like a matter of time before a select group can slip away. But who will it contain?
62km to go: Not normal
For those of you more used to men's racing, or even those who watched yesterday's race and saw a 15 minute lead halve in a flash yesterday, this is not the kind of thing we see in women's cycling very often, so it's very hard to predict what's going to happen. As it stands, the three medals are accounted for.
And with that Demi Vollering, the winner of La Course, makes the first real move of the race. Leah Thomas leads the Americans in pursuit.
A touch of wheels takes Emma Norsgaard (Denmark) down and Annemiek van Vleuten has nowhere to go but straight over her. Fortunately it's a slow crash, and AVV is back on her bike quickly, but that can't have helped.
67km to go: Are the Dutch paying the price of having four favourites?
Alex Dowsett seems to think so:
The break is still at 9.38.
71km to go: The South Americans are back in the bunch
Soto Campos and Espinola are returned to the belly of the bunch, as Anna van der Breggen comes to the front of it for the Dutch. You sense that they’ve decided enough is enough and there’s too much at stake to let these riders stay that far up the road for too much longer. The gap is finally starting to come down but it’s still only a trickle and we’re surely going to need the dam to burst before too long.
81km to go: A Dutch gamble?
The riders in orange seem to be leaving marshalling responsibilities to the other teams - especially the German and American teams, who are one of the five with a full complement of four riders. It's difficult in these conditions for anyone to really control things, though, so they'll have to hope they're just strong enough to bring the gap - still at over 10 minutes - down, and the women in front begin to tire sooner rather than later.
87km to go: Now down to four, who are our breakaway riders?
Omer Shapira rides for Canyon Sram in the Womens WorldTour. The only representative of Israel in this race, she’s a good climber and, arguably, the most dangerous rider in this break.
Although making her Olympic debut, Anna Kiesenhofer is a pretty experienced rider. She works in academia when she’s not cycling and holds a PhD in applied mathematics from The Polytechnic University of Catalonia.
Carla Oberholzer is another Olympic debutant. She owns a physiotherapy practise, a company that makes jams and chutneys, and has a share in a cafe in Clarens, South Africa.
29 year-old Anna Plichter rides professionally for Lotto Soudal. She competed in both the road race and the time trial in Rio, and is doing the same in Tokyo.
97km to go: Gap now up to 10 minutes
Inside 100km and it’s still perfectly manageable for the bunch but they’re going to want to put a lid on it relatively soon. With the two African riders pulled back, we had a counter attack in the form of Catalina Anais Soto Campos from Chile, and Agua Marina Espinola of Paraguay. They’re still over 7 minutes off the front of the race which is on the Doushi Road, as the climbing begins.
105km to go: If she can see it...
It’s not to be for our two chasers, who are about to be reabsorbed by the peloton, but they’ve had some TV time and that’s not without value. In a regular race, that would be to the benefit of sponsors, which obviously isn’t a factor here. As Dani King, on the comms for Eurosport, points out however, it’s about representing themselves to those watching back home, and showing that women from anywhere can ride bikes at the highest competitive level.
110km to go: A relaxed rollout
It couldn’t have been easier for the five-rider break to get away, and get into its rhythm. It’s composed of Omer Shapira (Israel), Vera Looser (Namibia), Anna Kiesenhofer (Austria), Carla Oberholzer (South Africa) and Anna Plichter (Poland). Mosana Debesay of Eritrea and Selam Amha of Ethiopia missed out on the move and are chasing down the five leaders. They were in touch, but it’s proving to be a bit of a tough ask and it appears they're going to be returned to the comfort of the pack. The peloton has settled down, and are most concerned about keeping cool at this point. It’s over 33 degrees in Tokyo right now, so big bottles and ice packs are the order of the day.
Rolling towards gold
Wakey wakey, rise and shine. We’re back on the road to the Fuji International raceway, even if we’re not bothering with the mountain itself, this morning (afternoon/evening).
If you want my opinion, although visually it didn’t hurt things, from a racing perspective the men’s course wasn’t particularly enhanced by the inclusion of Mount Fuji, and therefore the women’s edition will not particularly suffer for its absence.
(Which I entirely understand is Not The Point. Just as it is with the smaller sized peloton, even if the action itself is materially unaffected, the impression is of a lesser competition.)
What will make much more of a difference is the omission of the super steep sloped Mikuni Pass. It was always expected to be decisive in the men’s race and so it proved.
Arguably, however, all that does is alter the member of the Dutch squad who the race is best suited to. It also - potentially - makes the women’s race less predictable than the men’s. Can anyone say with certainty where the decisive move will come, merely by looking at the map or the profile?
That the four favourites for the race are every member of the Dutch squad (in this order: Van Der Breggen, Van Vleuten, Vos, Vollering) is both a blessing and a curse. It’s hard (though not impossible) to imagine them actually racing each other for the win, but if they don’t, what else is going to shake out the result? The answer may lie in a strategy defence as the best form of attack: chasing following moves made by other nations, more than making any of their own.
For my money, the bookies have it wrong. Not to put the four Dutch riders ahead of all the rest, because of course they’re better than all the rest, but in the way they’ve ranked them. AVDB might be the reigning champ, and, after her downfall in Rio, AVV the most hungry, but Marianne Vos is the rider this course is designed for. Its gradients are attritional, rather than hyper selective, perfect - on paper, at least - for the peloton’s most powerful player.
But this race takes place on the road, not in the realm of theory, which is why even a Dutch victory isn't guaranteed.119k to go, five riders up the road with a lead of 4.14 and climbing. Let’s see how it plays out.
A numbers Games
Only 67 women are competing in this year's road race, a stark contrast to the men's 130, and of those 67, the dominant nations the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Australia and the United States have been given spaces for four riders. All other nations have between one and three riders, which of course, puts them on the back foot.
While five nations are lucky enough to have four-rider squads, only the Dutch team is so strong the race could be won by any of its four members. Previous gold medallists Anna van der Breggenand Marianne Vos are top choices, but Annemiek van Vleuten is also an incredibly strong contender. She chose to skip the Giro Donne to avoid potential injury leading up to Tokyo, so should be feeling fresh ahead of Sunday. The final recruit to the super-squad is SD Worx protégé, Demi Vollering. Proven in sprints and climbs, she looks set to take over Anna van der Breggen's crown as a leader at SD Worx after she retires at the end of this season. Vollering may be ‘plan D’ for the Dutch team, but she’d walk into leadership at virtually any other national squad at this Games.
Who could challenge the seemingly untouchable Dutch for gold? Australia has strength in numbers this year, with climber Amanda Spratt and rising talent Grace Brown headlining their team. They are led by road captain Tiffany Cromwell who – somewhat surprisingly given her fruitful and lengthy career so far – will be competing in her first Olympic Games.
Italy will also field four riders, with Elisa Longo-Borghini the obvious leader given her recent national title and WorldTour successes with Trek-Segafredo. She looked a little bit off-the-pace at Giro Donne, however, and might be struggling for form.
The United States and Germany are the other two countries with four allocated riders. The US have a strong climber in Ruth Winder who is saying goodbye to professional cycling at the end of this year and would dearly love to go out on a high. She’ll be backed up by the prodigiously-talented Chloe Dygert, Leah Thomas and Coryn Rivera who returned to winning ways at the top level with her stage victory in Giro Donne earlier this month. Rivera was climbing brilliantly for someone who made her name as a sprinter, and could be a wildcard winner for this year’s gold.
Germany brings national road and time trial champion Lisa Brennauer, who could really pose threats to the Dutch dominance if left to gain traction in a breakaway.
Classics riders such as Lizzie Deignan of Great Britain could see success if they can cling on through the middle section of climbing. With only two riders in the Great Britain team (Deignan and Anna Shackley), they won't be able to control the race with numbers, and will have to try and out-fox the Dutch if they want Deignan to be able to go up the road. After a previous silver in London 2012, Deignan will be looking to finally clinch the gold after finishing outside the medals in Rio.
Climbers such as Kasia Niewiadoma of Poland, Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio of South Africa and Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig of Denmark will want to make sure they whittle down the peloton before reaching the speedway. These smaller teams may be forced to try and attack during the climbs, or at least wear down the legs of the more punchy riders.
Whether the Dutch can be beaten may yet be decided by the Dutch themselves. As mentioned, Annemiek van Vleuten skipped the Giro, her favourite race of the year, in order to maximise her chances of winning in Tokyo. It seems farfetched to suggest that she would be willing to let van der Breggen take the starring role in this Dutch team. Van der Breggen, with one eye on her retirement, may also be reluctant to work for van Vleuten’s interests. If there’s one thing that can throw a spanner in the works for the women in orange, it’s a bit of internecine squabbling.
What is the route?
A route that has been described as similar to that of an Ardennes Classic, it is comprised of 137km and 2,692 metres of climbing – this is not going to be an easy day in the office. Riders will begin in the Musashinonomori Park and head towards Fuji International Speedway via some long drags and perhaps a decisive climb of Kagosaka Pass, which is 2.2km long and has an average gradient of 5%. Following their final climb, they will descend to the Speedway where they will ride one and a half laps to the finish.
If the non-specialist climbers can cling on through the tricky middle section, we could see a fast and furious finish, although it’s highly unlikely to come down to a sprint. Teams with smaller numbers may try and force a breakaway earlier on in the day, whereas the larger teams will be able to control the race a little bit more. Expect aggressive racing on a course that’s hard to predict a clear cut winner.
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