Anna Kiesenhofer takes surprise victory in Tokyo Olympic road race

The unheralded Austrian pulled off an impressive coup in hot conditions.

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Little-known Austrian rider Anna Kiesenhofer has taken an unlikely victory from the breakaway in the women’s road race at the Tokyo Olympics.

The 30-year-old, who hasn’t raced for a professional team since 2017, was the very first rider to attack in the 137 km race, helping to forge a day-long breakaway that got more than 10 minutes up the road. Kiesenhofer later attacked solo from the remnants of that breakaway on the day’s final climb – with 41 km still to race – and held off a solo chase from Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) and a splintered peloton to take gold in stunning fashion.

Behind Kiesenhofer, Van Vleuten again attacked with a couple kilometres to go from what remained of the peloton, taking silver ahead of bronze-medalist Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) who also attacked late.

 “It’s incredible, I couldn’t believe it, even when I crossed the line,” said Kiesenhofer. “I planned to attack at kilometre zero and I was happy I could get in front. That is something I could not take for granted because I am not good at riding in the peloton.

“I am happy that I was not too scared and I just went for it. I attacked and with the group we worked more or less together — it was helpful to have a group. I saw I was the strongest and I knew I had the climb before the long descent.

“I’m pretty good at descending so I got some more time and then it was just like a time trial to the finish.”

How it happened

The women’s road race began in temperatures above 30 ºC (86 ºF) with a controversially small peloton of just 67 riders. After a long neutral section, Kiesenhofer attacked from the flag, ultimately creating the day-long breakaway. She was joined by Carla Oberholzer (South Africa), Vera Looser (Namibia), Anna Plichta (Poland), and Omer Shapira (Israel) and the five-strong group built an advantage that peaked at over 10 minutes – unusually large for a pro women’s race and likely the result of the small peloton size and a lack of race radios.

In the early kilometres several small groups tried to bridge across to the breakaway but all ultimately fell short. On the long, gradual drag up Doushi Road the urgency gradually increased in the peloton, with Germany particularly active at the front. All four riders from the Dutch team – the pre-race favourites – spent some time on the front as well.

Looser was dropped from the break with 97 km to go, and Oberholzer suffered the same fate with 88 km remaining, leaving three out front. There was a flurry of activity in the peloton with around 60 km to go, with Demi Vollering (Netherlands), Ruth Winder (USA), Marianne Vos (Netherlands), and Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) all going on the attack. But it wasn’t until Van Vleuten burst clear, with 54 km left to race, that a move finally stuck.

Within a few kilometres Van Vleuten already had a gap of roughly 40 seconds over the peloton, but the three leaders were still almost six minutes up the road. On the last notable climb, up to Kagosaka Pass with 41 km to go, Kiesenhofer dropped Plichta and then Shapira. With 40 km remaining, Kiesenhofer led Van Vleuten by five minutes and the peloton by most of six minutes.

While Van Vleuten made some headway in what looked to be a promising chase, she was ultimately caught by a splintered peloton with 25 km remaining. With 20 km to go Kiesenhofer still had a gap of 4:20 over the bunch and the Austrian looked to be riding to victory. While there were plenty of late attacks from the thinned-down peloton, most notably from Juliette Labous (France), Kiesenhofer had more than enough time to stay away, despite fading in the closing kilometres.

Behind Kiesenhofer, Shapira and Plichta worked hard to stay ahead of what remained of the peloton. The pair would ultimately be caught with 4.5 km to go, as attacks continued in the peloton. Van Vleuten broke clear again with a couple kilometres to go, followed by Longo Borghini. Van Vleuten took the silver medal at 1:15 behind Kiesenhofer, but celebrated as she crossed the line, seemingly thinking that she’d won. Longo Borghini crossed the line another 14 seconds behind in third. Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) was fourth, just ahead of a group of eight – the remnants of the peloton.

Van Vleuten posted up for second place, unaware that Kiesenhofer was still up the road. She wasn’t the only one who didn’t realise.

While Kiesenhofer isn’t a household name, she has had some success on the European circuit. The reigning Austrian time trial champion, Kiesenhofer was second overall at the 2020 Tour de l’Ardeche, and third overall in 2016. On stage 3 of that 2016 edition, on a stage that finished atop Mont Ventoux, Kiesenhofer won solo by nearly four minutes.

While she hasn’t raced as a professional since her single season with Lotto Soudal Ladies in 2017, Kiesenhofer has won three Austrian TT titles and a single road title since then. Off the bike she works as a mathematics post-doc, having completed a PhD in mathematics in 2017.

Results

Olympic Games WE - Road Race (Olympics) Musashinonomori Park → Fuji International Speedway

KIESENHOFER Anna
1
2
VAN VLEUTEN Annemiek Netherlands
4
KOPECKY Lotte Belgium
5
VOS Marianne Netherlands
6
BRENNAUER Lisa Germany
7
RIVERA Coryn United States
8
9
ZABELINSKAYA Olga Uzbekistan

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