Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria won the women’s road race at the Tokyo Olympics on Sunday, beating Lizzie Deignan of Great Britain by 11 seconds in a surprise victory.
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“Is everything finished now? Is it necessary for me to continue riding?”
If Anna Kiesenhofer doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to bike another kilometer. The Austrian has accomplished the unthinkable: he has come from nothing to win Olympic gold.
She’s a mathematician by day with two degrees and a PhD, but she doesn’t have a professional cycling team, though they’ll be lining up for her autograph after seeing Sunday’s breathtaking road racing performance.
The 30-year-old set out on a single breakaway, which she maintained despite her lungs and legs screaming, to finish almost a minute ahead of 2019 world champion Annemiek van Vleuten.
Kiesenhofer’s lead was so large that Van Vleuten of the Netherlands didn’t realize she was only in second place when she crossed the finish line, celebrating as if she had won before shouting, “I was mistaken.”
In contrast to professional road racing, Olympic cyclists do not have access to race radios.
“This is what happens when you ride a big race like this without communicating,” Van Vleuten said.
“I don’t believe she was ever written down.” I’m not familiar with her. If you don’t know anybody, how much can you possibly go wrong?
“We believed we were doing everything correctly. We believed we were on our way to get gold.”
Kiesenhofer, a Cambridge graduate, has made history by being the first Austrian to win an Olympic road race medal and the first Austrian to earn an Olympic medal in any cycling event in 125 years.
However, her weariness was evident when she fell to the asphalt of the Fuji International Speedway track, gasping for air as her exhausted body realized it could finally stop.
“I was just trying to get to the front of the queue. My legs were totally devoid of everything “she said
“In my whole life, I have never emptied myself that much.” I couldn’t cycle any longer. My legs felt as though they were devoid of vitality.
“It’s simply unbelievable. I’ve put in a lot of effort for today. I wasn’t expecting to be able to complete it so quickly. I gave up everything even for a top-15 finish, and now to receive this as a return for those efforts is amazing.”
Kiesenhofer astounds the riding community.
Austria’s first gold medal in a summer Olympics since 2004 was won by Kiesenhofer.
Kiesenhofer was part of a five-rider group that broke away from the rest of the field only minutes after the 137-kilometer race began.
With around 70 kilometers left, the group was reduced to three riders: Kiesenhofer, Anna Plichta of Poland, and Omer Shapira of Israel, before the Austrian time trial champion rode alone on the first approach to the Speedway circuit, where the race would finish.
Van Vleuten led a push away from the pack, seeking to make atonement for the horrific accident that ended her road race in Rio 2016, just as she seemed to be on her way to the championship.
With about 25 kilometers to go, Van Vleuten, who had crashed earlier in the race, was pulled in, before she and her Dutch teammates began another pursuit with around 10 kilometers to go, incorporating Plichta and Shapira back into the group.
She then attacked again in the final moments, believing she was on her way to victory.
But Kiesenhofer, obviously straining as she fought to keep her muscles from cramping, continued to force her way around the circuit ahead of her, looking over her shoulder but seeing no one.
She collapsed to the ground in tears after crossing the finish line, shocked by the magnitude of her victory, while Van Vleuten and Elisa Longo Borghini won silver and bronze behind her.
Kiesenhofer is her country’s first gold medalist in a summer Olympics since Athens 2004. She has been without a professional team since 2017.
Deignan has had a ‘weird day’.
Deignan, a silver medalist at London 2012, finished 11th in the event, although teammate Anna Shackley did not finish.
“It was a strange old day,” Deignan told Sport. “I was between a rock and a hard place really.”
“I was on my own from about halfway through, but I was also marked, so I didn’t have the freedom to ride as a single rider.” I believe I did the correct thing tactically; it simply didn’t work out.
“It was a strange race. There are agendas inside teams, despite the fact that they are tiny. The maneuvers were a little dulled since the race was so hot and humid, and there wasn’t that sort of spark. It was a defensive race, but it was still very difficult.”
Deignan took a break from cycling in 2018 to give birth to her daughter, Orla, but returned in 2023 to win the Women’s Tour and the World Tour overall.
She finished sixth in the 2016 Rio Olympics, but her preparations were overshadowed by the threat of a cycling suspension when she was suspected of skipping three drug tests in a year, until the Court of Arbitration for Sport cleared her only days before the event.
Orla’s presence, she earlier said, caused her to “fall back in love with the sport.”
“I’m certainly upset, but I see things from the viewpoint that I placed myself in this situation. I’ve got a fantastic team behind me “she said
“We’ve had a pandemic and yet had an Olympics, and there’s a lot to be grateful for.”