With two Dutchies on staff, the women’s Olympic road race was an emotional rollercoaster for the Ella team as we watched Annemiek van Vleuten (Orica-AIS, the Netherlands) having the ride of her career before crashing horrifically, giving the race lead back to American Mara Abbott (Wiggle-High5) who then heartbreakingly got caught with just 200 metres to go as Anna van der Breggen (Rabo-Liv, the Netherlands) launched an early sprint to drop her two chase companions to the line.
We’ll be talking about this nail-biter of a race for some time to come, but in case you missed the race, here are the top five talking points from women’s Olympic road race.
1. Annemiek van Vleuten’s amazing climb and horrible crash
In the final metres of the Vista Chinesa climb, a small selection of five riders was coming out ahead when TT-specialist Annemiek van Vleuten attacked and no-one was able to follow. American Mara Abbott, a two-time Giro Rosa winner and considered the best female climber in the world, held on the longest and was able to get back onto Van Vleuten’s wheel just as the top was reached. It was an incredibly show of force by the Dutchwoman, who would later say she had never felt stronger during a race.
It all went horribly wrong, however, on the treacherous descent. Van Vleuten overshot a corner and crashed into the concrete curb, flipping over her handlebars and landing awkwardly on a raised gutter. She lay motionless for several minutes as Abbott and the eventual medal winners rode past her.
It was a good 20 minutes before news came through that Van Vleuten had regained consciousness and had been taken to hospital.
She suffered a severe concussion and three small fractures in her lumbar spine. From her hospital bed, she reassured everyone she was OK and mostly disappointed.
Van Vleuten’s crash has been the topic everyone talked about, and race winner Anna van der Breggen dedicated her medal to Van Vleuten.
Images, videos and even gifs of the horrific crash have been circulating the internet but we will refrain from posting them here.
We wish Van Vleuten a full and speedy recovery.
2. Mara Abbott’s heartbreaking performance
After Van Vleuten crashed out on the descent, Abbott was now in the lead, making it to the bottom of the Vista Chinesa on her own.
In a similar situation to the men’s race the day before, Abbott now faced the 6-kilometre flat run-in to the finish by herself, while behind her a strong trio was chasing with all their might. Her little body had already been pushed to its limit ten times over in the past 3.5 hours and now the numbers were stacked against her. As the kilometres dwindled down, so did the gap between her and the fierce chasers.
At the one-kilometre mark, Abbott allowed herself to dream. She could almost feel the weight of the gold medal slung around her neck.
But with just 200 metres to go, Abbott saw her Olympic dreams crumble around her as the chasing trio sped by her in the final sprint for the finish.
Abbott had given a truly heroic performance and it was pure heartbreak for the Americans to miss out on a medal after coming tantalisingly close.
After the finish, teammate Kirstin Armstrong wrapped Abbott up in a hug, allowing for a few quiet moments and tears before facing the media.
Her performance may not have yielded a medal but it sure did inspire a nation that so rarely gets to watch women’s cycling.
3. Race favourite Anna van der Breggen comes through at the end
Within reach of the two leaders Mara Abbott and Annemiek van Vleuten, Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen started the descent down the Vista Chinesa. Turning a corner, however, Van der Breggen was given quite a fright. There, on the side of the road, lay her teammate face-down and motionless.
All sense of place and Olympic glory forgotten, it wasn’t until Sweden’s Emma Johansson gave her some encouragement that Van der Breggen could focus again on the race at hand.
“We saw Annemiek lie there and it did not look good. It took a while before I could switch [back to racing]. Only when Emma Johansson said, ‘Let’s do it for Annemiek’ I was able to turn the switch,” said Van der Breggen.
The finish was nearing and the chasing trio of Johansson, Van der Breggen and Italy’s Elisa Longho Borgini was running out of time to catch race leader Mara Abbott.
Refocused, Van der Breggen played the game patiently. Exerting as little energy as possible while Borgini did the lion’s share of the work, she waited.
“I purposely restrained myself in the last two kilometres because Emma Johansson is very quick,” said Van der Breggen.
The moment the trio reached Abbott, Van der Breggen launched a long and early sprint, a risky move as being the first to go cost her the World Championship race in Richmond last Fall when she lost the sprint to Lizzie Armitstead.
“I gambled. When I saw the 150 metres sign, I knew I had to go because my sprint isn’t fast enough to wait any longer,” she said afterwards.
It was the correct call, and Van der Breggen managed to hold off Johansson to the line.
In doing so, Van der Breggen succeeds compatriot Marianne Vos as Olympic champion. She becomes the fourth Dutchwoman to have won this title out of the just nine Olympic women’s road races held.
What’s more, Van der Breggen is also a race favourite for Wednesday’s individual time trial. Can she become the first woman in Olympic history to win a gold in both events in the same year?
4. Vos, the domestique
How can you not love, or respect, Marianne Vos? The multiple World and Olympic champion is the winningest cyclist of all time and a nice and humble woman to boot. But she may have gained even more fans yesterday when she put her own ambitions aside and became world’s best bottle-getter.
While many looked to her as a race favourite, Vos instead played the role of domestique, dropping back to the team car to load her jersey with team bottles before launching a counterattack that would find her in the first potentially race-winning move of the day.
Even though it wasn’t, it was a strong performance, switching from super-domestique to race leader within seconds.
Vos is Boss.
5. Lotte Kopecky’s incredible performance
At 20 years old, Lotte Kopecky (Lotto-Soudal, Belgium) was the youngest participant in the field. That did not stop the Belgian U23 champion from putting in the first attack of the day and quickly gaining 4 minutes on the field.
A sprinter and track racer, she gave an incredible solo performance on the hilly Rio circuit and was able to hold off the peloton until well into the first climb.
She spend whopping 65 lonesome kilometres with her head in the wind before being reeled in, and she was still able to finish the race, crossing the line in 45th place.
Full results of the women’s Olympic road race
VAN DER BREGGEN Anna
LONGO BORGHINI Elisa