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Aug 8, 2016 – Anna van der Breggen overcame the “shock” of seeing Dutch team-mate Annemiek van Vleuten sprawled motionless in the road before going on to claim Olympic cycling gold.
Van der Breggen powered to victory in the women’s 137km Games road race around Rio on Sunday, but only after Van Vleuten crashed out spectacularly when leading with just 10km to ride.
“It really shook me when I saw Annemiek crashed in the road,” said the new champion. “Annemiek was leading but I realized I was now first in the team. I was shocked. I focused and got in the race. This is the result of years of hard work, riding and training.”
Sweden’s Emma Johansson, who came second, added: “Annamiek’s crash was horrendous. We just want to know she is OK. The race was so tough.” The crash came on the same hill that saw carnage in Saturday’s men’s road race, as Italian Vincenzo Nibali and Sergio Henao of Colombia both hit the deck in almost exactly the same spot, when they too were leading.
Van Vleuten looked to be heading for victory but tumbled head over heels in a stomach-churning fall that left her in a crumpled heap on the side of the road, motionless. Cycling’s governing body, the International Cycling Union (UCI)later said Van Vleuten had been taken to hospital where she was “conscious, able to communicate.”
Van der Breggen regrouped quickly from the shock, though, and she, Johansson and Italy’s Elise Longo Borghini, who took bronze, reeled in American Mara Abbott in a thrilling finale on Copacabana beach.
In a near carbon copy of the men’s race, Abbott was left out alone in front following Van Vleuten’s crash, just as Poland’s Rafal Majka had been when Nibali and Henao fell. Majka had to settle for bronze, though, after he was caught by eventual champion Greg Van Avermaet and Jakob Fuglsang with 1.5km left.
Abbott got even closer to victory but the waif-like climber was agonizingly caught just 150 meters from the line. “I rode it to the max. I got to 200m and I thought ‘oh my God, this is going to happen’. Then they passed me,” said a despondent Abbott. World champion Lizzie Armitstead of Britain was dropped on the climb and led home a chase group of riders for fifth place 20 seconds too late. But the course described by Irish rider Dan Martin on Saturday as “brutal” had taken its toll in dramatic circumstances once again.
Early on in the race Belgian Lotte Kopecky made an ambitious solo breakaway with a group of five heavyweight chasers pursuing her, including double Olympic time-trial champion Kristin Armstrong and two-time world road race champion Giorgia Bronzini. They caught Kopecky halfway through the race and were almost simultaneously swallowed up by the peloton. Inside the last 40km, seven riders got away including reigning Olympic champion Marianne Vos and 2014 world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prevot of France.
They took their lead out to more than a minute but were caught with 23km left, just after the final climb of the Vista Chinesa had begun. Abbott pushed the pace, reducing the lead group to just seven riders before an attack by Van der Breggen whittled it down to four. Abbott and Van Vleuten then went clear and crested the climb with 15km to ride 50-seconds ahead of the chase group of three riders: Van der Breggen, Johansson and Longo Borghini.
Behind that, Armitstead had gauged her effort on the climb and was leading another group not far behind. Van Vleuten had left a cautious Abbott behind on the descent and was seemingly heading for gold when she piled into the side of the road 10km from the finish. Abbott soldiered on but the gap was coming down with every kilometer and heartbreakingly she was caught with the finish line in sight.
1. Anna Van Der Breggen (Netherlands) 3:51:27
2. Emma Johansson (Sweden)
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)
4. Mara Abbott (United States Of America) 0:00:04
5. Elizabeth Armitstead (Great Britain) 0:00:20
6. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland)
7. Flavia Oliveira (Brazil)
8. Jolanda Neff (Switzerland)
9. Marianne Vos (Netherlands) 0:01:14
10. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa)
11. Megan Guarnier (United States Of America)
12. Evelyn Stevens (United States Of America) 0:01:16
13. Alena Amialiusik (Belarus) 0:02:16
14. Tatiana Guderzo (Italy) 0:02:19
15. Amanda Spratt (Australia) 0:04:09
16. Olga Zabelinskaya (Russian Federation) 0:04:25
17. Eri Yonamine (Japan) 0:04:56
18. Christine Majerus (Luxembourg) 0:05:07
19. Lisa Brennauer (Germany)
20. Elena Cecchini (Italy)