The Moment The Olympics Were Won

Anna Kiesenhofer attacks Anna Plichta and Omer Shapira over the Kagosaka pass. With a lead of five minutes on Annemiek van Vleuten and six minutes on the rest with just over 40km to go, the Austrian is going solo. This was the moment the Olympic road race was won.

The Koremasa bridge spans the river Tama, linking the bed towns of Fuchū and Inagi and it is no place special, as the recon ride photo suggests. Still, it was promised a footnote in sporting history as the start point of the 2020 Olympic road races, the kilomètre zero. Now it merits a plaque saying “Anna Kiesenhofer attacked here on Sunday 25 June” because the Austrian amateur jumped the instant the flag dropped, the start of a race-winning plot.

For every winner there has to be a looser and more on them in a minute, but Kiesenhofer was joined by Namibia’s Vera Looser who still had the merit of joining the action from the start and South Africa’s Carla Oberholzer. Moments later reinforcements came across in the form of World Tour level pros Anna Plichta (Poland) and Omer Shapira (Israel).

Behind, nothing. Like the men’s race the peloton was content to sit up. Instead, like Kremlinologists, we could wonder about the balance of power within the mighty Dutch team. Was Marianne Vos the designated helper today? Yes, perhaps as moments earlier she was gathering the special ice vests worn by the Dutch team to take them back to the car and fetch new bottles.

We got big crowds again although because of Covid people had been advised to stay away. Perhaps plenty did? In normal times it could have been ten deep in the Tama hills and a chorus of “ganbatte“, the Japanese for allez, hup or forza.

Trixi Worrack didn’t need encouragement and the German veteran launched an attack. When she was reeled in, compatriot Hannah Ludwig had a go. But nothing stuck and moments later Worrack drifted back to the team cars and the race fell back to its previous phase. No nation wanted to chase, races often have moments like this until one team blinks first and decides to chase.

  • Now for a structural interlude. Having bemoaned in the preview that too much of the coverage of women’s racing is about structural issues rather than sport, we must note just 67 riders started. That’d be decent for the Japanese nationals but tiny for a major international competition. Only the Olympics has quotas, they don’t want to accommodate hundreds of cyclists just for a one day event. Traditionally this meant the men got more places and this year of approximate 200 athlete quota for road cycling, 65% went to the men and 35% for the women. This will be fixed in Paris 2024 at 50-50… but that means fields of 90 each and a concern for another day.

Now back to Tokyo. The field of 67 meant only four nations had “big teams”… of four riders. So the biggest teams could hardly spare a rider. Then layer on tactics because why should, say, Germany or Italy start working if it meant the Dutch would win anyway? Better to pressure the Dutch into chasing and revealing which of their four were protected and who would be sacrificed.

Kremlinology wasn’t easy. Because all the Dutch riders seemed to be shuttling back and forth to their team car. As riders to watch maybe they stood out more but they seemed to be at the back. A lot. Meanwhile the gap had grown to ten minutes as they reached the Dōshi road with 95km to go and Looser had been dropped, a clue the breakaway wasn’t hanging around. Next to go was Oberholzer, fried on flat section.

With 87km to go it looked like the little-known Kiesenhofer was next. Only no, she’d gone back to the team car for a bottle. Perhaps it was inexperience but she’d dropped so far back she was now a hundred metres behind the other two escapees, but there was no sticky bottle either. She just rode back.

At one point both Annemiek van Vleuten and Marianne Vos were back at their team car for another chat. What new information had they got, what was the team plan? The breakaway had almost 10 minutes with 67km to go and something had to be done. Then Emma Norsgaard crashed and van Vleuten rode into her to fall hard. She was ok and riding again but no crash is consequence-free.

Demi Vollering launched the first move from the Dutch team but the USA squad quickly got her back. Soon after Anna van der Breggen launched. For a moment the peloton was in pieces and while riders regrouped, plenty of riders had been ejected and were done for the day, including outsiders like Norsgaard and Bastianelli.

Next van Vleuten attacked on the steeper slopes of the Yamabushi pass to go solo. Just as winners get to write history this looked the moment the story switched from “doh, they’ve given the breakaway too much time” to “the Dutchies are stomping all over the race” and we were all ready for another vintage van Vleuten raid. At the top of the pass she was now less than six minutes away from the lead trio and almost a minute clear of the peloton and at one point chatting with the TV camera crew – flown in from the Netherlands – in order to get a time check and “vijf minuten” came the reply. She’d been taking chunks of time but shook her head at the news.

Soon she stalled. Lapping Lake Yamanaka the time gaps seemed frozen. Being so used to van Vleuten ravaging races was the GPS timing was playing up? Only the gaps were right, the breakaway was still working hard and the peloton had begun to chase. Van Vleuten was stuck.

KO on the Kagosaka Pass
At this point Kiesenhofer attacked, and this is the crucial part, first she dropped Plichta who was in the World Tour with Trek-Segafredo last year and now at Lotto-Soudal. Then World Tour pro Omer Shapira, normally of Canyon-SRAM, was distanced. It was a knock-out blow by Kiesenhofer.

For van Vleuten and the rest it wasn’t yet obvious. Chapatte’s Law says the bunch can take back one minute for every 10 kilometres remaining and over Kagosakatōge with 41km to go Kiesenhof had five minutes. Chapatte said “oui” to Kiesenhofer but the equation was more complicated, a partial equation with variables like the nature of the course and the distance of the race and unknowns such as the fatigue of the leader and the state of the chasers behind. And while Kiesenhofer’s job title is “Chair of Partial Differential Equations” in the science department of Switzerland’s prestigious EPFL university let’s not kid ourselves things were that complicated: Kiesenhofer had only a small lead on the pair she’d dropped and a good advantage on van Vleuten and the bunch. Nothing was complicated, she was committed to going solo for gold in an all or nothing move, a throw of the dice more than a solution.

Van Vleuten wasn’t closing in. Did she know it? Yes because on Kagosaka there were two soigneurs in orange shirts shouting time checks at her. “Vijf minuten” again said one, pointing behind to say “zes minuten“, as in van Vleuten was five minutes down and the bunch was a further minute behind. The long lap around Yamanaka in pursuit mode hadn’t helped close the gap, nor had her efforts up the Kagosaka pass. But in shouting the time gaps the soigneurs didn’t say how many riders were ahead.

Coming into the Fuji circuit with 20km to go Kiesenhofer had over four minutes and Chapatte was saying “oui” in emphatic tones. Only a ruinous cramp could spoil things and this wasn’t out of the question as the Austrian was now visibly tired, the legs were turning nicely but her upper body was twisted, arms bent, neck hunched.

Coincidentally the Fuji speedway circuit involved a section with a small tunnel, with the race riding under another part of the course. It was just when Kiesenhofer was on the upper section that the peloton was in the tunnel and this helped keep Kiesenhofer out of sight. They couldn’t have responded if they’d seen her, but they might have known they were racing for silver.

Yet there were chances for information from here. There were Dutch staff in the pit zone with 20km for the peloton to go but presumably they didn’t know what van Vleuten knew. Also, and the video is fuzzy here, there looked to be someone in orange holding up an A3 sized board. A fan? This was a reserved zone. Race info? Maybe but this doesn’t mean it was readable if it was or that it was certain to be spotted.

With 10km to go Shapira and Plichta were hanging on for the medals and Kiesenhofer still had four minutes while France’s Juliette Labous had set off en chasse patate. Back into the Fuji Speedway with 6km to go Kiesenhofer was still over three minutes ahead. Labous was soon caught, so were Shapira and Plichta and the race for the other medals was on and the attacks flew. Eventually van Vleuten was away solo and Elisa Longo Borghini behind held on for bronze… but van Vleuten thought she’d won and it took a moment before she clocked Kiesenhofer and that the Austrian amateur had struck gold.

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The Verdict
A thriller, but if this was a film the genre might depend on your nationality: a fairy tale for Austrians and many neutrals; a disaster movie for those down in the Netherlands. At one point in the final hour hour you wondered if Dutch broadcaster NOS might have decided to cut to some pistol shooting or the canoe slalom to spare depressing the audience any more. Yet it was otherwise enjoyable and the lack of suspense at the end was replaced with surprise, the wow factor of seeing this happening in front of us.

Of course the contributing factor to all of this was confusion in the Dutch camp exemplified by van Vleuten sitting up to celebrate as she crossed the line. Yes it was her first Olympic medal… but her celebrations suggested she thought she had won, and she soon said so on TV. Apply some hindsight and this begins to explain more of the tactics… but not everything. First a lack of information can happen. Yes there were motos with boards to supply regular time checks to the riders and speaking to L’Equipe French men’s selector Thomas Voeckler, said the information over race radio was limpide which best translates as “crystal clear”. Still while many in the peloton knew who was away, some did not. It happens, in fact it happened during a stage of the last Tour de France where some riders didn’t know someone else was still out in front, but I’d forgotten which stage it was because it wasn’t important. We shouldn’t confuse the images at home from two helicopters and several motorbikes with what riders can see around them.

Van Vleuten knew she was five minutes down with 40km to go, or at least that’s what her soigneurs shouted loud enough for the TV moto micro to pick it up. With a long descent making chasing hard perhaps she gave up… only to see Plichta and Shapira reeled in and, forgetting there was another rider away, suddenly thought an Olympic miracle had occurred and here was a path to gold. Crucially that was both wrong and too late. All the teams gave the breakaway too much room on the roads of Sagamihara and Dōshi and as L’Equipe’s Giles Simon wrote (€) in French, “this wasn’t a miss, it was a tactical shipwreck, a strategic Trafalgar”. Besides, once given the space Kiesenhofer was simply too strong, she didn’t lose much ground against the world’s best in the final half of the race. Then, having seen off the rest of the breakaway, she was strong enough to hit out solo with 40km to go, sacking two World Tour level pros.

After the satisfaction of seeing the best riders from the Tour de France duke it out for the medals in a script a Hollywood executive would approve, the women’s race went for a fantasy story from Yowamushi Pedal, an otaku win, and in a manner that could only really work in a fantasy manga. Yes sport has its upsets but it would be a surprise if Kiesenhofer held out to win the Flèche Wallonne from the early break, a stunning shock if she’d somehow won the Strade Bianche. But the Olympics?

Well actually yes, because with a small field made up of small teams it was always going to be hard to chase: the breakaway had a better chance. Street smarts told us this more than any masters in maths. We can lament the petite peloton but on the morning of the race this was an angle to be exploited and all the more reason for riders to have gone in the early move, for teams to place someone. They didn’t and Austria gets its first gold in the summer Olympics since 2004. Plus an amateur won. We shouldn’t exaggerate, Kiesenhofer is no novice and had ridden for Lotto-Soudal in the past, and is a national champion. And with that caveat we can note amateur is derived from the Latin to love, it conveys someone doing something out sheer pleasure. The thirty-year old coaches herself, and her bike didn’t come from a service course but a bike shop, complete with Shimano shifters and a SRAM chainset, just like any other amateur out for a Sunday ride.

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153 thoughts on “The Moment The Olympics Were Won”

    • Yes, a glorious race report. Spending time with my wife’s family in eastern European countryside I now regret I omitted the Olympics (there is no TV anyway, just an axe, a splitting log and a lot of work and lot of wine – with a fortunate prospect of a bikepacking trip through the Carpathians next week) but reading the report is probably even better then watching the race. But what a race! 🙂

  1. I hope that the inevitable discussion around tactics and communication doesn’t serve to detract from Kiesenhofer’s ride – whilst they obviously played a part, we should remember that Van Vleuten failed to make more than a minor dent into the time gap over the course of 25km. A monster ride from the Austrian!

    • @Davesta – you could say that AVV going up the road solo was another Dutch tactical error. She was never going to close that gap on her own.

  2. Thanks so much, INRNG, for this write up. Agree with a previous poster that this is one of your best. I watched the race live, yet reading it here I was nervous, excited,appalled and delighted all over again. What a race. She was magnificent.

    Another reason to love INRNG. I have discovered that Trafalgar is used by the French as a phrase to describe a calamity. It makes sense, but viewed from an English point of view it still gave me reason to reflect on other world views.

  3. “Shimano shifters and a SRAM chainset, just like any other amateur out for a Sunday ride. ”
    And just like my wife and I.
    Great write up and great result, loved it. Many Thanks.

  4. Nice review! Heavily favored team with lots of star riders screws-the-pooch, then makes a bunch of excuses and acts like spoiled children. What a surprise AVV, the worst example of that rides for……wait for it…..MOVISTAR. Is anyone surprised? The result was for sure a surprise but the post-race complaints and finger-pointing…no. Very UN-Olympian IMHO.

      • Gawd knows in my competitive career I have had plenty of defeats but I held no other persons or situation to blame for them so unless you have some example that suggests otherwise your comment (to borrow from D Evans) “contributes nothing to the discussion and is merely a snide personal remark.”
        OTOH my comments point out the poor sporting attitude displayed by AVV. Is this person somehow above criticism? This race was generally regarded as a travesty by plenty of experts in women’s racing, it’s far from just my isolated and grumpy opinion. AVV continues to act like if only there were radio earpieces she would be wearing the gold medal. It’s not like the radios conked-out mid-race, she and her team (as well as all the others) knew well-in-advance there would be no radio communications allowed directly to rider earpieces. As I wrote elsewhere “it ain’t rocket surgery”!
        The Eurosport Italia technical commentator was beside herself trying to describe what was going on and was pretty much disgusted by what happened, as were plenty of competitors in the race based on the comments I’ve read online since. This race made women’s racing look very amateurish, a sad situation when it’s the world’s biggest stage. Team NL deserves a lot of blame for that.
        None of that should take away from the winner, someone who said she’d have been happy with 25th place and took a go-for-broke, do-or-die, race-to-win attitude that paid off mostly due to Team NL’s cock-up. Post-race none of those folks were seen on TV congratulating the winner, instead there was lots of finger-pointing and excuses. Perhaps that’s how YOU act in defeat but it’s not how I acted in my competitive career nor a very good example of the Olympic Spirit IMHO.

        • “This race made women’s racing look very amateurish”
          Nonsense. That’s pure overdetermination. It’s one race. It says no more about ‘women’s racing’ in general than any one race does, however many people are watching.

          & for those non-cycling people, it’s mainly just a great story. Which it is.

          • I agree. For seasoned cycling fans, it was a glaring tactical and/or communication blunder, which could arguably be described as “amateurish”…but for the non-cycling public (except possibly the Dutch), I suspect it was seen as a compelling underdog story, and one in true Olympic spirit!

          • There’s a whiff of “mansplaining” when we’re told, despite the comments of knowledgeable WOMEN racers and commentators on TV and all over the internet that the race was good by the keyboard wizards here. Can you pat them electronically on their pretty little heads and tell ’em not to worry about how this farce looked to the biggest TV audience for women’s cycling…one that comes only every 4 (or in this case 5) years? I’m sure they’ll feel much, much better after you mansplain it all to them 🙂

          • em – Larry T wasn’t saying women’s racing is amateurish, he was saying the brutal tactics in THIS ONE EVENT looked amateurish – which it did. It was stupid – the top-4 riders in the race had zero clue what the race situation was, AND they couldn’t cooperate in any way. They never rode as a group, were constantly on their own in the pack and never worked together (or with the Germans, et al.) to bring back the break.

            The Dutch girls are so used to overpowering the bunch with their physical powers, and leave the teamwork up to their trade teams. Now, in a situation where they were on their own they were riding like juniors.

            Plus, as Larry pointed out, after the race they gave constant excuses. Give me a break, you got beat fair and square by an AMATEUR who gave one of the gutsiest rides I’ve ever seen.

            Great race!

            Full disclaimer, I’m part dutch, and the lack of communication was classic – it is my family to a T

          • I suspect you have to be a man to mansplain. I also suspect Em is not a man.
            Personally I think the format of the Olympic road race does not do road racing any favours. But in this case the pro women did look stupid. A long breakaway winner is excusable in a stage race because there are lots of different factors. In a one-day race not so much. The goal is to get into the winning selection, and not let a break of unfavoured riders get a winning margin…
            A win for the outside observer, rooting for the underdog, but the Olympic road race has proven itself to be a substandard event rather than the apex of cycling endeavour. Perhaps Olympic cycling should be left to the track…

        • Please accept my apologies Larry, I had no idea you were such a consummate loser. Unfortunately despite your protestations to the contrary the overwhelming negativity of your views does indeed take away from the winner. Refreshingly there are a number of posters that see the outcome of this race in a more nuanced and positive light but I think Gabriele sums it up best in describing it as a ‘result of racing complexity and a reward for daring.’ So apart from your animus towards AVV, what’s NOT to like?! (I agree the immediate post race lack of reaction by the Dutch team towards AK was a distinctly bad look, perhaps the strange nature of these Covid Games exacerbated that. It was certainly far from the glory of the Olympic ideal.)

          • You wrote: “I had no idea you were such a consummate loser.” A comment better posted over on IMHO sir, especially when you are hiding behind a pseudonym. If you want to call me names and hurl insults the least you can do is man-up and put your real name on them. I’ll now add “Tour of Flounders” to the Anonymous family comments – the ones I simply scroll past.

  5. The Kagosaka Pass was the moment the race was won, but it was surely lost 20km earlier when van Vleuten attacked on the Doushi Road. The effect was to neutralise the chase when still six minutes behind the lead. For the fifteen kilometres between the two passes, it was one against three on a road that should have favoured the chase. By contrast Kiesenhofer showed a degree of astuteness to stay with her companions until the terrain no longer favoured a group.

    A great deal has been made about the lack of communications, but I wonder as well whether the prevalence of radios has created a generation of riders less able to think tactically for themselves. Certainly the Dutch seemed all at sea tactically and wasted the resources they had that would have been better used chasing hard en bloc at least until the Kagosaka Pass. Had they taken two minutes along that stretch, the outcome may well have been different.

    • Van Vleuten’s attack did look like she was off to hunt down the breakaway but by the time she’d got most of the way about Lake Yamanaka she’d stopped making inroads and was stuck.

      Not sure about radios but I was surprised to see the Dutch riders back at the team cars so often, as if they needed information and advice all the time. Normally the Dutch team is very good managing without radios, to the point of having special signs held up by staff at the Valkenberg worlds to communicate info, they’ve been thinking things through. It was was also amusing to watch some pro team managers scramble to Twitter to say race radios are alright in the wake of the race.

    • “A great deal has been made about the lack of communications, but I wonder as well whether the prevalence of radios has created a generation of riders less able to think tactically for themselves.”
      Exactly what old, cranky people like me keep going on about!! Making riders think for themselves is just one more way to keep cycling from becoming just a watts/kg contest. AVV’s whining about how she coulda/shoulda/woulda won if she’d had a radio earpiece makes her sound like an empty-headed robot incapable of figuring out how to race without instructions fed into her ear.

      • Admittedly I haven’t read more than a handful of comments from the Dutch riders, but I haven’t yet come across a single cudda/shudda/wudda won -comment. The silver medalist said she thought she’d won gold, two other Dutch riders (and a British) rider said that they didn’t know Kiesenhofer was ahead of the duo that was caught.
        Instead of describing AVV’s comment as “whining” you could’ve – and, yes, should’ve – quoted it and/or given us a link or at least a source.

          • Every quote? Then somehow you have managed to avoid to read the ones I read! Unless – and I don’t know how to say this without “getting personal”, i.e. I cannot avoid talking about Larry T instead of the race – you somehow managed to read into those comments.
            I did google before commenting, but please do google it for me, if you can be bothered!
            The only comment that could fit or be made to fit was that of Anna van der Breggen in Wielerflits where she tells that she saw a chalkboard erroneously telling that the gap was 1.35 when that was in fact the gap from Kiesenhofer to Plichta and Shapira. She adds that according to that info the peloton rode hard enough to catch the head of the race.
            (I do wonder what the previous chalkboard had shown, i.e. would 1.35 have been realistic, and how soon the next chalkboard – with the correct time gap – was shown.)

            But I suppose we can never agree to have read the same news stories and comments 🙁 (and sometimes :-))

          • Sorry, I’m not going there. I don’t much like AVV but I don’t want to make it seem like some sort of personal attack when I claim she’s being a poor sport and making excuses about the result.

  6. This race was an advertisement of keeping the bunch small. Bigger teams would have meant a more predictable race. Plenty of Olympic sports keeps the numbers down to just 3 even if the nation has more good athletes.

    I wouldn’t say this was a race lost to lack of radio’s.
    Rather it was lost to lack of team structure. The dutch had 4 generals. They are all good and had a chance of victory but 2 of them should have been dedicated workers. Like Greg Van Avermaet yesterday he road tempo just to keep the break away close enough. Then the first and 2nd worker set things up on the climb. If no breakaway has achieved by the 3rd rider then the forth is set up for the sprint or late break away.
    And also a road general who has the authority to tell the others what to do.

    • Having both 90 for the men and women in Paris is probably going to require some thoughts, is the Olympic race supposed to be like a Monument and so 250km? Or with a small field would it not be more fun lapping, say, the hill in Montmartre and doing something more spectacular?

      • Inrng – very cool idea. That would give this a very interesting course structure, and as you say with a smaller field makes it much more possible. Plus, with a smaller field and almost a closed course, it gives this a very different feel to the normal Classic course.

        This is similar to the Canadian late summer classics in Vieux Quebec and Montreal.

    • Absolutely! Pro racing has become very predictable and the Olympics (both races) have shown what you can do against it: Ban Race radios and make smaller teams. This will introduce more uncertainty, which is great for the outcome (= more entertaining racing).
      Unfortunately, I doubt it will happen as the teams will all oppose the above, as it will mean they lose control… Hopefully the UCI can take this forward.

      • There’s been a study in race radios, only one mind you. But the conclusion was without radios pro teams won’t give the break much room because there’s even less chance to correct mistakes. By the time someone measures a 5 minute time gap, radios it, it gets marked on a board or a rider gets the info for a team car it can be 10 minutes out of date. So a pro team will chase harder from the start to minimise this risk.

        During the Tour de France Thomas Voeckler from the France TV moto gave a good story about this from his racing days and how he’d get in a break and then later when he spotted a time check in progress or at likely points, eg the 25km to go banner, he’d sit up in order to game the time checks so that 10 minutes later the bunch would think they were taking back time but by the time they got the news Voeckler would be giving it full power and increasing his lead… and so he stayed away for the win.

        There are good races with radios and good radios without but it’s also a hidden “wedge issue” for the teams and the UCI in their squabbles.

        • Its not only about the time gaps. I have spent many hours of my life in team cars, its also about telling riders the positioning of their opponents, good moments to attack or anticipating attacks, reminding them to eat and drink, how to behave in a break, information about their break companions, the reaction of the peloton if they are ahead or dropped etc.

          One example: If you look carefully when small groups go to the finish and one rider attacks from behind, very often, the others accelerate before they can actually see him or without having turned their head. This is because they often get the “hey, watch out” from the DS on the radio, who can often better see the situation from behind and warn them of attacks (even without TV, where there is a delay in the signal). I have witnessed this numerous times.
          Of all interventions over the radio, the so called “safety” calls, used by the radio proponents to defend their use, are the infinite minority.

          And yes, if you just take the radio away one day or two, breakaways will get less room, but this will also make the teams considerably more tired, so in the long run, uncertainty increases.

          From a more global perspective: Which sport with a significant tactical aspect such as cycling allows outside communication (other than from the side of the pitch)? Imagine a football game with wired players, the coach in the stands sending info to the players, as he obviously sees more… I do not think this is in line with the sport and its spirit. (And no, I do not think Formula one is a fair comparison, as it is mainly an engineering contest).

          • Many sports have coaching involvement, with or without the use of technology. Many sports don’t need technology because the playing field is contained and coaching is immediately adjacent to the field.

            Here’s the list:
            ~ F1 – this is a sport, much more than just engineering
            ~ hockey – direct coaching involvement and conversations the entire race
            ~ American football – the director sportif (they call them coordinators – for which there are multiple) radio calls and analysis to the coach who relays it via hand signals or radio calls every play (plays last 4-5 seconds on average)
            ~ baseball – hand signals, discussions, IPAD analysis, code words
            ~ football – coaches talk to the players
            ~ baseketball – coaches on sidelines passing playcalls to players via constant conversation
            ~ rowing – 8-person boats have a “coach” in the boat
            ~ sailing – the “coach” is the captain of the ship, constantly discussing with the crew
            ~ etc.

            Many sports have communication from the coaches, and usually these are team sports that are more and more collaborative. In cycling, many see this system as a way to enhance the sport. Others don’t, but from someone who did not grow up with cycling, most of the calls to ban radios seems to come from the French, and I don’t know why, but it seems that they tie radios with their country’s declining dominance in the sport.

            In my opinion, France’s waning dominance seems to stem more from their complete reluctance to embrace advancements in the sport. Whether this is scientific ways to prepare the athletes or teamwork advancements, you rarely see their teams play a major role in races. Radio use won’t change this in any way.

          • Many sports allow coaching from the sidelines, which are conveniently right next to the playing field. Others don’t – tennis famously had the incident where Serena Williams was penalised for being coached during the US Open final.

            Rugby is starting to have issues with this. The coaches are not allowed on the field during a match. However, water carriers may come on during stoppages to dispense water. Recently the South African head coach has taken to acting as water carrier, to dispense both hydration and advice. Much like the cycling practice of going back to the car for a bottle and a tactical nugget.

      • Sorry, what part of the TdF was predictable? Ignoring the yellow jersey battle, the majority of stage winners were completely unpredictable AND most of the stages had very thrilling finishes. Were the riders using radios?

        How about MSR? Very exciting race, still riders were wearing radios. Giro – exciting, still wearing radios. I’ve been thrilled at many of the races this year, riders were wearing radios.

        The women’s race wasn’t exciting because no radio – the other teams knew the situation, but the Dutch weren’t TALKING to anyone, or using the moto-timing boards. They went back to the cars constantly and still had no clue that someone was up the road.

  7. Thank you thank you thank you for the write up. You never cover women’s cycling, as you’ve said in the past, but this was worth it and you gave it both barrels. I hope in addition to her lecturing at that elite college in Switzerland, Kiesenhofer now gets a Chair of Schadenfreudheitswissenschaft where she can do the equation to define the state. Now then, is E for Ego, or Expectation…? H for how Hubris is to be expressed? N for negative racing or is that Nemesis?
    You pointed out that soigneurs and team cars were all there to give information on time gaps and that she may be an ‘amateur’ because she has no contract, but now Kiesenhofer is Olympic Champion and there’s nothing the nederlandse sullen bad girls in school can do about that. She worked for it, she got it. At least Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig had the decency to acknowledge the winner and congratulate her but she is also right that this race was a terrible shop window for the whole of women’s road cycling, something that will be to everyone’s lasting detriment.
    If field sizes for the Olympic road races will now be so restricted for men and women, how will any rider ever get into the race when they sit at such long odds as today’s winner? The Olympics just made asses out of aspiration in sport. Pfft, the IOC is said to be the world’s largest private company and this is what such organisations do because uncertainty combined with anti-establishment behaviour is too difficult to control and monetise. Pathetically small start sheet for the MTB cross-country tomorrow and Tuesday too.

    • Amongst the many excellent points made by ‘plurien’, this was well worth a mention:-
      “At least Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig had the decency to acknowledge the winner and congratulate her”
      From what I saw post race, she was the only rider to give Anna Kiesenhofer a “well done”. Slightly surreal to see the winner of an Olympic road race without media attention, without chaperone and pushing her own bike, team support staff seemed mostly MIA. No guidance from officials regarding what she should do next either. All that aside, it was a magnificent effort, first to attack, first to finish.

      • Great write up,
        I’m really sad about the lack on acknowledgment of the winner by her fellow competitors.
        It didn’t look good on the TV

      • “this race was a terrible shop window for the whole of women’s road cycling, something that will be to everyone’s lasting detriment”

        No, it won’t. Women’s cycling will carry on pretty much as did before, & then in three years’ time various people who pay little attention the rest of the time will pop up to moralise & make sweeping judgments, before vanishing again.

        Given that the piece everyone’s commenting on avoided such histrionics, it’s a shame some of the people commenting can’t similarly restrain themselves.

        We’ll see how the men’s peloton get on in four years time racing with greatly reduced teams & the women do with an expanded one, eh.

        • “If I’m to be completely honest then this [the race/what happened] was shit. It was a pretty bad representation of female cycling,” Uttrup Ludwig told the Danish Broadcasting Corporation (DR).” – Cycling News
          I thought the race was brilliant, but that’s because I was focused on the winner who completely played the favourites’ usual tactics and showed how negative they are.
          The same applied to men’s racing as it used to be, and I relish the open, up-front nature of riding the last two years has brought us.

        • Well I agree with this more or less. The frustration is palpable. You sound almost like a certain Ms Pooley.
          Though I think women’s cycling needs the Olympics far more than the men’s for the exposure.

      • Very much spot on. I was quite shocked and thought it was a covid thing, then I remembered that no pandemic issue had hindered mutual cheering at the end of the men’s race.

      • I had the same surreal feeling. No one around the winner, except an « obscure » employee of the austrian federation. No one greeting her neither. And she just took her bike as she was going to ride to the hotel.

  8. Thanks for the wonderful commentary, a treat for all.
    Stunning win that can be remembered, savored as one of those rare achievements. That’s one for the ages and what a great gal to have done it!

  9. ‘Amateur’, surely, but she had a solid background in Spain which brought her to Lotto in the first place. And she’s a Ventoux winner, too.
    In a sense, she might even be seen as ‘more pro’ than many second-line pros in the women bunch, as she works out in detail all her prep by herself – which can be a notable advantage if you’re good at it and dedicated enough.
    In fact, her step back from the pro scene also depended on health issues which could be related, at least partially, to poor training by the structures she happened to work with.

    Far from a random winner, albeit a huge surprise nonetheless.

    A great result for her and for cycling, too, given that it wasn’t the by-product of pure chance as much as the result of racing complexity and a reward for daring.

    • “A great result for her and for cycling, too,”
      Can you point me to comments that would indicate thoughts this race was GOOD for women’s cycling? I’ve heard and ready plenty of comments, none of ’em describing this race as good for women’s cycling unless perhaps you’re in the “any publicity is good publicity” camp.
      Most of ’em have been like this:

      • For me it was just a race. We shouldn’t expect each event to be an advert for the sport, any more than a boring edition of the Giro is bad for Italian cycling, or seeing the MTB race in Tokyo/Izu turned into a time trial for the last hour was bad for MTB. The main thing is it’s there for millions to watch and enjoy. What would have been boring was a race without a breakaway ending in a bunch sprint and instead yesterday we had an attack from the start and lots going on.

        [zapped someone else’s long tirade about this subject].

      • Pretty much this whole comment section…

        Eros Poli’s feat didn’t put shame on the Ventoux, nor Hayman’s on Roubaix (and I was personally cheering for Boonen).
        Cycling’s greatness lies in its complexity, which often (or not so often, perhaps) creates sort of folds or cracks in the obvious plot of “the strongest winning”, and there you have that space of crazy hope which makes it possible to actually run a race with an early break keeping things going and so on.
        The fact that an athlete can win even without being one of the best 20 or 30 from a merely physical point of view is quintessential to cycling and one of its plus, not a flaw.
        Please note that it’s not like the race wasn’t contested… most of the early break was actually reeled in. It was from every POV an impressive athletic result – just not what you’d expect.
        Was Taco’s Giro win a bad result for men cycling or for the Giro? Quite the contrary, I’d say.
        Of course, you need a margin which depends on other competitors’ mistakes. But that’s not just cycling or women cycling, it’s sport in general.
        And I’d even say that such mistakes weren’t accidental, they were structural to the composition of the Dutch team… which ultimately makes them a very interesting part of the game.
        Do you really believe they were all confused? Or it’s rather that they weren’t willing to act as a team? Haven’t we seen this before among men?
        If anything, I’d dare to say – as a mere provocation rather than as a serious argument – that the women field have shown to their male equivalent how you need to race against too dominant a team (I’m thinking about some TdFs, not about the male Olympics, of course).

          • Only to take the point on unpredictability a bit further and say it would be the end of this event’s media dominance if the IOC/UCI chop the field down to 90 starters in each road race. No way would Kiesenhofer have been in a race of ‘the world’s best 90 riders’ as she is ranked 88th by UCI… but global representation blah blah.
            What chance would most riders from outside of Europe have of representing their country, or is the squeeze actively there to give athletes from other continents greater prominence, limiting the Europeans numbers even more? Does UCI want to spread cycle sport’s appeal on the global stage or does it want a tight coterie of the leading nations only? Limiting numbers is a bad idea either way. Cycle sport’s appeal to so many of us is precisely that it’s an international/omninational sport, so doing this really would make it so the top pros no longer care.
            Take soccer as an example… yes, please take it away because nobody cares about the global game as played at the Olympics.

    • Exactly right gabriele, that’s why so many of the greats only started winning big races once they’d quit the sport professionally.

    • My last comment – Larry T – I agreed with you that the Dutch tactics were brutal, but ignoring them, I think this was a great race. You had the David vs. Goliath story line, and the David in this case had one of the best rides I’ve ever seen. The powerhouse teams couldn’t agree on anything and Anna exploited that, she set up the break, working really well with them and at a crucial point, she dropped WT pro’s and TT’d from way out. The main bunch barely dented her gap and she rode on a fully exposed race track to solo to the line.

      Brilliant race, brilliant coverage by Inrng, amazing story for Anna to tell her friends/family until the day she dies. I don’t think anything should take away from her victory – it was exactly what the Olympic movement is about – a great sporting story from an unsung athlete.

      • @Gabriele, your points about road cycling though are the very reasons that it should not be in the Olympic Games.
        Road cycling has its own tactics and (mostly Machiavellian) nuances that set it apart and, I would argue, are not in keeping with the spirit of the Games.
        Road cycling has more in common with the treachery that finally defeated the 300 at Thermopylae than the honour of the runner bringing news of the victory at Marathon.
        And whilst the Games has always had a place for an Eddie The Eagle or Eric The Eel, they don’t usually win gold medals .
        I’ve not enjoyed the road cycling at all at these Games.

        • Ecky – your comment compares cycling to the defeat of the 300 at Thermopylae as a negative. On the contrary, the Ancient Greek legends is what the modern Olympiad was designed to replicate.

          Perhaps we should cancel all of the other cleaned up games, and only keep the Machiavellian and archaic nuances from cycling.

        • @Ecky
          Curiously enough, precisely the marathon *when run at the Olympics* is one of the most tactical and strategically convoluted versions of that discipline… which – among several other factors, of course – is why, since Bikila at least, the Olympic gold time tends to sit well above (even +5-10 mins) the correspondent WR.
          Everybody’s thinking about winning or getting a medal, not about running as fast as they can.
          Make of it what you want, but please don’t ask the IOC to quit the marathon 😉

          • It might be added that in marathon, too, there is the matter of national quotas. When you have an unusually small team that consists of three runners who all fancy winning gold, there will be no “domestiques” running at a planned fast pace and protecting the “captains” from wind.
            (But you will get less known marathoners from smaller nations taking off early in the race, getting their share of TV time and sometimes gaining a large gap.)

            But it should be pointed out that while the famous big city marathons and WR attempt take place in spring or autumn and runners typically can enjoy a near optimal, cool weather, Olympic marathons take place in the heat of the summer and there is the inevitable cause-and-effect on the winners’ times.

        • +1 – it’s been close to a lottery. While in the men’s race the medals reflected some of the best riders at the top of their game, it’s not like the best one day races.

  10. A great read about a fascinating race.
    And a joy to see an amateur win something, which once upon a time is what the Olympics were supposed to be about.

  11. Inrng – two things – first of all, thank you very much for starting to cover women’s racing. I understand why you don’t normally do it, and no pressure to cover all major women’s races, but I appreciate it as a father of a young girl. Cycling and many sports are making great strides to increase female sport and I really hope it keeps growing.

    Secondly, what a win! The Dutch screwed up big time, great ride for Anna! A huge win and an interesting story she will always be able to cherish. Imagine telling that story to your grandchildren?

    Awesome job. Thanks again Inrng.

  12. Wow, I find all your posts professional and useful, but this one is on ANOTHER LEVEL!!
    I watched the whole race, yet your insight told so much I missed. (like Vijf minuten, etc)
    Many thanks!

    • So he knew about her too. He posted that at 08:35 BST.
      At 08:32 in a discussion online here:- ‘Gonna be a good celebration for, er, silver.’ Then a lot of stuff not printable about negative racing followed by..
      09:16: – ‘AVV celebration?!’
      Kieserhofer could have a great future in gravel racing if road bunch racing is not her thing, where she’d be horribly marked out now everyone knows. Most of the big gravel events happen in summer vac time too. Great way to get equipment sponsorship earnings, a paid vacation and winnings, not that she needs them with an academic post. Guess she gets free S___ bikes for life now anyhow.

      • Well Scott must be giddy – – my impression from a couple articles is that she bought the bike herself, or at least it wasn’t Scott’s sponsorship money. If that’s true, lucky lucky Scott.

  13. (1) The information about the time gap between the head of the race and the peloton was correct and given in the normal manner.
    (2) Riders in the peloton may not have known that Kiesenhofer had left behind the two other riders in the breakaway, but they knew the time gap to the leader. (Were they even given the time gap to the dropped duo?)
    (3) The Dutch rode as they did and they wouldn’t have ridden differently, if only they had known Kiesenhofer had gone solo. Obviously not until the point Kiesenhofer attacked, but not after it, either.
    (4) The illusion everyone is talking about wasn’t born until when the Polish and the Israeli rider were caught and its effect on the race was limited to what the silver medal winner thought and felt when she approached the finish line.
    (5) Kiesenhofer would have won even if the Dutch had been perfectly informed throughout the race or if they had known that there was still one rider ahead of them.

  14. Thanks so much for your work with these Olympic races Mr Inrng. I really enjoyed the weekend racing, even more so because of your previews, and not least because it was in daylight hours for me for once. From the moment this one ended I was impatient for your writeup to cut through the conjecture with bonus insights that only you seem to have, and you didn’t let us down. Great race, great write up. Thanks again.

  15. I can’t find a results sheet online to confirm, but there is a comment knocking around that back in 2012 while studying at Cambridge, Kiesenhofer came 32nd out of 32 riders in the British Universities 10’mile TT championship with a time of 34 minutes, which just adds to the fascination of the story.

    • One can only assume a crash or mechanical was cause for this. You wouldn’t be selected otherwise, even at university level.

      I can find it now but Dan Bigham posted a similar results sheet, where she had beaten him at a university event by about a minute… over 25 miles and both going comfortably under an hour.

      • At least in my day, Cambridge and Oxford had a big handful of automatic invites for historical reasons that were hard to fill. So it was a jaunty day out for some of the more casual members and the after-party was always quality.
        (Hey, they let clowns like me race it)

        But 10 miles in 34 minutes is basically an ‘I flatted and rolled in trying not to wreck my expensive rims’ or ‘I walked the last two miles without a chain’ label.

  16. Wonderful race and could kick myself for not watching the whole thing live. In true Olympic spirit one rider says “Hold my beer” to the usual formulaic routine of pro cycling races. Nice to see Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig congratulating Anna Kiesenhofer at the end! Fortune favours the brave and all that, wonderful result and I would expect Scott will be sending a new bike to Austria now!

  17. Funny how much talk on hindsight there was about the Dutch and their failing to catch all the break.
    But we forget it was 63 against 4 and none of any of the riders in the pack had any chance on winning as they still could not stop vVleuten after her xth attack of the day.

    Makes the question, how good was the strategy for the other nations?

  18. I think the criticism that this race reflected badly on women’s cycling is tinged with a certain amount of sour grapes, especially if it’s written with a Dutch accent.

    There’s endless griping about dull and processional races that end up with the break being managed all day and then a formulaic sprint. Yet here comes a race with an unbelievable (in the positive sense, rather than the accusatory one) solo ride, despite a gap that could have been reeled in within the last 10km if only the chase had been organised. It dropped to just 80 seconds, but until 5km out the chase was still pretty ineffectual, and there was no pressure on Kiesenhofer. Intrigue, suspense, endless speculation about what was going on in the Dutch heads – what’s not to like about all that?

    Mostly though, everyone’s hot takes are just them claiming that it confirms whatever they already believed about radios, team orders, women’s cycling etc… If it had happened in the men’s race we’d be calling it a heist for the ages and raving about everyone being taken for mugs. Maybe just enjoy it for what it is.

    • The contrast between both road races and the men’s MTB X-Co today couldn’t have been starker.
      The former are hours and hours of nothing much at all compared to a far more concise and concentrated event with lots of action and drama, not least MvdP’s triple salchow fall.

      • Well, about 90′ of thrill in the three cases, it’s not like the road races lacked attacks, and I’d even say that they tended to have a greater depth or single impact than the flurry of shorter accelerations which we saw in the (very good) MTB event. Two different sports, both likeable. Pidcock was huge and makes me very optimistic for the future level of competition in road cycling, too, but MvdP’s mistake took away quite much from the race, albeit not from the gold medal (my guess, Tom would have win anyway, of course).

  19. I’ll preface this by saying I don’t watch a lot of women’s cycling… but… if the Dutch are so strong and have the 4 outright favourites why do they even bother with tactics? If they’d have just set off on a 4 up team time trial from the start they’d have won it easily. Probably.

  20. is there not a lead car on the race? The one following Anna K. Surely VdV would not of been with the lead car and therefore not at the front of the race.

    • There definitely seemed to be a lot of seeing things that weren’t there, and not seeing things that were there. All these things likely resulted from the stress of realising earlier in the race that on the day they just weren’t good enough.

    • Good point but maybe van Vleuten wasn’t thinking so clearly or imagined the lead car wasn’t needed or went far ahead for the laps of the closed Fuji circuit etc. But such assumptions give rise to problems, you could see them compounding up.

  21. Thanks and Kudos for this outstanding piece. You’re clearly passionate about it. We have known this already for a long time but this notion rarely came across so “loudly”.

    • A big surprise result, perhaps both will be famous now, but this was different for me. Bradbury was last but the others fell away, it would be like being dropped on the last hill on the Fuji speedway but winning because the group ahead all crashed and so you just had to ride past. Kiesenhofer went clear from the start and built up a big lead.

      • Skating just behind the front is a legit tactic in short track speed skating as it allows the skater to save energy for a final sprint AND potentially benefit from crashes which are a routine part of short track in a way that they are not in any discipline of cycling. It’s not like Bradbury was a nobody, he had made it through the earlier rounds to qualify for the final and had previously picked up medals at Olympic and World level.

        Going off the front at KM 0 is a legit tactic in a road race for similar reasons, a low percentage option that sometimes works. It’s not like Kiesenhofer was a nobody, she had previously been a pro and had multiple ITT national titles plus a Mont Ventoux win in a semi-pro race.

        So I would say that comparing the two is actually quite appropriate.

      • This pretty much happened to a teammate of mine once – like eight guys in the front of a field split all crashed when sprinting within ~20 feet of the line, and my teammate who’d been tailed off and was in no-mans land like two seconds back, and with like two seconds on the rest of the peloton, coasted across completely baffled at having just won.

  22. I have been reading inrng for the last few years, though I rarely comment. But with the tour and the olympics you’ve just shown again that no other cycling commentary can compete. This one particularly was a joy to read.
    Time to offer voluntary premium subscription or donations? Feels wrong to be taking this on for free while paying for alternatives with far less quality.

  23. Were there no TV’s or radios in AVV’s car tuned to the race to give her team info when they went back to the car? Or was that illegal?

    • There’s race radio. TV would be harder but if they had a phone they could stream the race coverage or check Twitter etc. But race radio supplies all the info here. I think it wasn’t the lack of info that did it for the Dutch though, it was the poker / stand-off that let the break get too much time, and to labour the point, especially Kiesenhofer just not fading like Shapira and Plichta eventually did.

  24. Super ‘tale of the étape’ as they’d say on the cycling podcast. Honest question to any of you: What are the actual arguments to say that this race showed women’s racing in a bad light? As an increasingly obsessive cycling watcher, incl of the women’s tour, I thought it was thrilling and provided a whole series of great storylines.

    • I have to say I am mystified by that reaction too, and I hope my saying that isn’t interpreted as some sort of condescension towards women’s racing. Perhaps within the professional bubble being beaten by a combination of a maverick ‘amateur’ and your own side’s limitations/failings is too bitter a pill to swallow. Also agree about the great storylines. Surely a film one day?

    • Start with this one:
      During the event the Italian Eurosport TV technical commentator Lazzaro was beside herself at what a travesty this was as a race. Sitting next to me at home in front of the live TV coverage was my wife, a woman who knows a thing-or-three about women’s racing, having been on a podium between competitors who have Olympic cycling medals to their names as well as competing in the USA Olympic trials a time or two. She was almost as distraught as Lazzaro but at the same time heartened that a go-for-broke, do-or-die effort might actually pay off while making the rest of the competitors (and the race) look…well…for lack of a better word…amateurish.
      I think all of ’em fear “Look at that! They don’t know how to race! They stupidly let someone get 10+ minutes ahead with just 60 kms to race and then farted-around and let her win! They call themselves professionals and ask for the same compensation as us men? They’re a joke!”
      Based on how and what happened, combined with the various excuses it’s hard to argue against those kinds of comments, which is why women who are not to blame are particularly upset IMHO.

      • It may well have been different in Danish, but you can just as easily read CUL’s comments as saying that *the big teams’ tactics* made women’s cycling look bad, not the actual result. She says “this” made cycling look bad, and then describes her competitors’ failure to chase. It doesn’t seem to be the outsider winning that she’s complaining about. Yet that’s the part that most people will remember.

        • “It doesn’t seem to be the outsider winning that she’s complaining about.” Read whatever you like into it, all I’m trying to do is present the viewpoints of women who are affected by the “bullshit” as she called it.
          When someone who knows nothing about cycling asks you the next time, “Why doesn’t someone just take off and win the race?” Instead of “Well, that’s not how it’s done because the advantage of an organized group behind chasing and sharing the work against the wind will eventually result in them being caught and spat out the back” you’ll have to reply, “Well that HAS worked in the past, but only when the chasers are a) racing not-to-lose rather than to win b) don’t seem to take the escapee(s) seriously c) don’t seem to be good at communicating d) don’t seem to be paying enough attention to what’s going on. It’s usually the kind of thing that might happen at much lower levels where the competitors are far less experienced, but there was one famous cock-up…the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Women’s Road Race.”
          If YOU were in that race and weren’t the gold medalist, would you brag about it?

      • Failing to chase a break until the very last athlete up the road? Even thinking nobody’s still out there? Ooooh! Unseen among male pros…

        One I remember from the last four or five years is Rubén Fernández on Ézaro (Vuelta a España).
        Or Simon Clarke pretending he was celebrating a well calculated pink jersey shift from his teammate Matthews in 2015, when he actually looked to be just unaware that Formolo had won the stage ahead of him (Giro d’Italia).
        A similar while opposite thing also happened recently to Yates when he thought he had *not* won the Clásica San Sebástian.
        I’m pretty sure there are more of those, I’ve been watching way less races during the last 2 or 3 years, hence my memory is probably
        An uphill finish at the Vuelta or a memorable stage at the Giro or a Classic aren’t the sort of world showcase which the Olympics are, but literally nobody was worrying about how bad (*male*) cycling was going to look like because that sort of situation.

        I’m afraid that women cycling is paradoxically being exacted a higher standard to prove it’s worth enough, or being criticised more harshly for something which isn’t as scandalous when happening among men – both attitudes often associate with social change related to women.

        What is more, the Olympic women race, IMHO, had in it something more than what was explicitly admitted, namely the reaction of other team to orange superiority (for example, a rival athlete told Niewiadoma that they were actually hoping that the Polish’s teammate could make it); plus, the relationships between the Ducth athletes themselves (what about Vos being perfectly aware of the race situation and not sharing it with the rest?).
        This is not as much lack of professionalism (although you could see it as such) as well as a consequence of multiple factors which are far from irrelevant in so many top level races (Lemond-Hinault? Visentini-Roche? Etc.).

        • I’m not claiming this never happens in men’s cycling but I can only imagine the fauxtrage here if something like this had happened in the MEN’s Olympic road race. I doubt there would be celebrations if say, the Dutch and Italian teams engaged in an all-day “After you. No after you!” affair while some unheard of racer from Greece rode away for the gold medal while they raced-not-to-lose. Perhaps you have to be a woman (or listen to a few of them) to understand this? It’s far, far different than Roche-Visentini or LeMond-Hinault.

        • Yes, there are more in recent years, think Pibernik in Palermo at the Giro or Mohorič in the Vuelta. Still doing this in the Olympics is something else given the event’s importance and there’s little chance to correct it.

    • I think that the professionals seriously don’t like it when they are shown up by an amateur … even a quasi amateur such as this.
      Have no idea how often it has happened but I do know that Russel Mockridge won the men’s professional sprint world championship as an amateur and that was not appreciated at all.

  25. This is easily the best analysis of the women’s road race that I have been able to find on-line. Setting aside the snark, also some great comments.
    In my book, a daring, successful day-long break away win by a self-training cyclist without a support team is an inspiration that reflects well on women’s cycling and on the competitive spirit.
    Even given their surprise and disappointment, the excuse making by the Dutch team and the media playing up of those issues, and the failure of the Dutch and all but a few of the other competitors to congratulate Anna Kiesenhofer unreservedly at the time for her heroic ride reflects poorly on them.
    By comparison, Kiesenhofer wrote in response to an Instagram post by Van Vleuten after the race, “I had no clue of the confusion when we went to the podium. Your reaction was exemplary, so composed, professional and just friendly despite the huge disappointment. Chapeau,” as in, hats off to you.
    The class shown by the Olympic gold medalist (and Van Vleuten on the podium) also reflect well on women’s cycling.

  26. Great analysis as usual. I think us as cyclists tend to view things within the bubble of our sport, and not step back and think about what the general public might see. While us cycling insiders might view this as terrible racing, or terrible display of women’s cycling, from my observations, the general public did not see it this way. In the US, I saw several places framing this as a historic upset. “The heavily favorited Dutch team was beat by a lone amateur from Austria.” Besides, if AvV had won, would the wider public ever talked about this?

  27. Yes, wonderful analysis, and full of the kind of context that a few commenters here are unable to acknowledge. It probably should have been obvious even before the race that having four gold-medal favorites as one’s entire team isn’t necessarily a good thing, with or without race radio. It might be in a race like the marathon, but not in a bicycle race. Some of the comments bring to mind Maslow’s Hammer: “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Though given the generally high level of comments here, hammering away to make the same grudge-filled points, ad nauseum, is especially tedious.

    Regarding the immediate post-race reactions of the non-winners, I don’t think it was that extraordinary. Several riders (esp. AvV) were obviously struggling to understand what had just happened. It’s unclear how many even knew Kiesenhofer personally, or that she was the winner. They certainly hadn’t seen her during the race, since she rode away immediately. And it wasn’t just the “arrogant Dutch” who responded that way; the only rider we saw on camera being gracious to the winner was the ever-personable Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig. Bronze medal winning ELB spent her post race time throwing shade on the Dutch riders for not controlling the race, apparently not realizing that she and her teammate hadn’t done a pedal stroke on the front to bring the breakaway back.

    As some have noted, in the mens’ race there were congratulations given at the finish line, but is this surprising when the winner was one of the favorites, when they’d all watched him ride away in plain sight at an obvious attack point, and they had been unable to respond? Plus many of them had just spent three weeks battling each other on the road of France, and frankly most of the congratulations appeared perfunctory (unlike in the Men’s ITT today, where many of the top finishers are on the same team). In the men’s road race, they knew who beat them, and how he’d beaten them, and there wasn’t a shred of confusion.

    In any event, if we are to believe what Kiesenhofer put out on Instagram (see Chris Wilson’s comment), she didn’t have the same experience that many seem to assume. And regarding what this does to women’s cycling, I watched the race with two women, both of whom found it fascinating and inspiring. Will it affect future viewership of women’s cycling. Unlikely, though it might inspire a few young women who aren’t early superstars to not give up on the sport.

    • The Olympic Games (and to a degree, the cycling World Championships) is the one major occasion where we can hold a mirror up to road cycling and look at its good and not so good points in context to other sports and their values.
      But I’m struggling to think of a another sport in the Games whose competitors turn up *not* to win or to deliberately deny someone else victory?
      There are tactics to a very limited extent in the marathon and other distance running events but they’re about assisting a favoured runner or dropping rivals with speed and tempo changes.
      But road cycling consistently produces outlier results in what is supposed to be its blue ribbon events.
      Whilst there’s an impressive looking list of World Champions, for instance, they’re often riders at the beginning of their careers, not at their optimum heights, as you’d expect to see in most other sports.
      This comparison in context to other sports is interesting but, I believe, it can show the uglier side of road cycling.
      There’s no issue with the winners of the races, whoever they may be, but rather the format – reduced and uneven team sizes, circuit style courses, no race radios etc. It can add up to produce tactical results. Personally, I want to see a proper race and one where its competitors have given their all to achieve a medal. Not riders that don’t want to ride or are unwilling to chase a move down.
      The Olympic Games shouldn’t be about that?

      • “…circuit style courses, no race radios” must certainly be to blame here, those never produce interesting, entertaining events except for all those times over the past decades where they have.
        But hey, reality doesn’t matter as it’s all opinion, right?

      • The Olympic mens road race has been open to full pros since 1996 I think. Since then the winners have been Pascal Richard – a very good one day rider who won plenty of big races, Jan Ullrich – a legend of the sport, Paolo Bettini – probably the best one day rider of his generation, Sammy Sanchez – an excellent rider who won a few big races, Alexander Vinokourov – a top rider who won a lot of big races even if we don’t want to admit it and they all have asterix next to them, Greg van Avarmaet – one of the top classics riders of his generation who was about to hit a great streak of form and Richard Carapaz – who hasn’t been around that long but has established himself as a top rider. I’m not sure any would count as outlier results. And when you consider that world champions of the last decade or so have been Cavendish, Gilbert, Kwiatkowski, Sagan, Valverde and Alaphilippe you wouldn’t say the world championships was constantly won by duds either. Cycling is different to running because of the effect of slipstreaming, and as such has a much greater tactical element. I think that’s why we are all commenting on a cycling blog rather than a running one.

        • I specifically said “in context to other sports” Richard.
          Have a look at virtually any track event’s list of gold medalists and they’re stellar names, all-time greats and what the Olympic Games has fed off.
          Your list of road cycling winners is partly revisionism, tactics, weather, course and plain old luck seem to be of almost as much importance as form.
          For Pagacar, read Coe or Ed Moses, for Caracaz read Steve Scott or Harald Schmid, and you get my point?

      • “The Olympic Games (and to a degree, the cycling World Championships) is the one major occasion where we can hold a mirror up to road cycling and look at its good and not so good points in context to other sports and their values.”
        I’m not sure about this. Road cycling is one of those sports that fits uneasily in the Olympics, I think, in that it evolved separate and apart from the Olympic style and tradition, and has enough differences in the rules that it’s perhaps in the same family but a different species. (Tennis is another example of a sport in which the Olympics is a step down compared to the top tennis events.) I’d put the men’s Olympic road race behind quite a few professional racing events. For the women it’s fantastic exposure, though, and so on balance I’m happy the Olympics includes road racing. But as a mirror to the sport, I don’t think so.

        I also don’t see riders coming to the Olympics specifically not to win, unless you mean having domestiques would sully the competition? Wasn’t that part of the problem in this race – no domestiques, so no one willing to sacrifice their chances to help someone else win? Let’s face it, in virtually every Olympic competition, most competitors show up knowing their odds of a gold medal are slim to none, and shocking surprises like the women’s road race are vanishingly rare. Which makes this race one that will be talked about for a long time. This makes me wonder what those crying that this is bad for women’s cycling are putting in their coffee, because this is exactly the kind of story that a casual fan can appreciate.

        Kiesenhofer rode an incredible race, and it was fascinating and exciting to watch. She outrode all the favorites. Isn’t that what the Olympic Games should be about?

        • You wrote: “Road cycling is one of those sports that fits uneasily in the Olympics, I think, in that it evolved separate and apart from the Olympic style and tradition,”
          While the FACT is: Road cycling emerged as a sport at the end of the 19th century. The sport featured at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and the road race has been included on every Olympic program since the Stockholm 1912 Games.

          • As usual, you miss the point. The Olympic road race has been a minor footnote in road racing until relatively recently. It was contested by amateurs and then by mostly second-tier professionals. It’s only since 1996 that winners of the gold medal have come from the best riders in cycling. Moreover, the nature of the race, and it’s location on the schedule most years (immediately after the TdF) means that it’s a race that few riders target the way the WC or PR or other top one-day races are targeted. From the viewing side, it is rarely a great watch for fans. And I mentioned tennis as one example of a sport in which there are multiple non-Olympic events that truly measure who is the best in the world. It’s the same in cycling.

            Moreover, the event is substantially different that most professional races. You have an extremely limited peloton, no radios, tiny or non-existent teams, and race routes that are one-offs. Of course, one aspect is that these difference in some ways make the Olympic race more fan friendly. Unlike a pro race, where 90% of the riders are not even thinking about winning or even being in contention, here it’s much less possible for one team to control the race, and team support becomes a relatively minor factor. Which leads to my main point – the victory by Kiesenhofer , while apparently upsetting the cycling intelligentsia and the usual peanut-gallery complainters, was exactly what the Olympics are about, and was very good for women’s cycling.

        • I’m not as convinced that the riders see the Olympic RR as a step behind many other races these days: a number of competitors in the Tour dropped out to focus on, or explicitly used it as training for, Tokyo. And the recognition factor among casual sports followers is high.

          It’s a relatively recent change, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the last few winners see their gold medals on about the same level as a Worlds or Monument. Not sure if any have made the comparison explicitly though.

          • Van der Poel dropped out of the TdF not for the road race but the mountain bike race. Who else is included in this “number” who left the Tour for the Olympic road race? Do you mean Woods skipping the ITT and a couple of sprint stages? That worked well, didn’t it – the top four finishers and 6 of the top 7 all completed the TdF. And those riders didn’t seem to be treating the Tour as “training.”

            I’m sure you’re correct that the last few winners of Olympic road races see those wins as significant. Wouldn’t anyone? They are significant, but in the big picture of professional cycling, an Olympic gold medal has a very short history of meaning anything compared to the great classics. The real question is how would a rider who has never won the TdF or a WC or an Olympic road race rate the significance? Judging from the number of top riders who skip the Olympic road race, or who put their full effort into the TdF and then see what they have left at the Olympics, I suspect it’s not at the very top of the list.

  28. Anna Kiesenhofer’s victory was awesome.
    Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig’s complaints about the race are understandable: people who never or rarely watch cycling will think ‘That was amazing’. People who regularly watch cycling will think ‘That was dreadful riding by the big teams’, which is clearly what CUL is suggesting.
    And I think she’s right to say that this was a bad advert for women’s cycling because I think more people are likely to get into women’s cycling who are already watching men’s cycling than non-cycling viewers. And those fans of men’s cycling might – wrongly – disregard women’s cycling as ‘amateurish’ (or similar) based on this one race.
    I did the same thing a number of years ago on the basis of one or maybe two races. Women’s cycling is often more open, with riders winning all kinds of races – i.e. the sort of racing that many cycling fans have been crying out for over the years (and which is actually now happening sometimes in men’s racing).
    The chalkboards weren’t to blame, nor the lack of radios. The Dutch had no rider willing to work to help others in the team, didn’t communicate with each other (Vos knew AK was out front) and made the basic failing of not knowing what was happening in the race. Also, AVV was unable to take back time on AK. And then they were petulant at the end.
    None of that reflects on women’s cycling, only on those particular people.

    • How can it be bad for either fans of women’s cycling or potential participants in women’s cycling to see a stunning, amazing performance by a self-coached amateur holding off the top pros?

      I’ve watched both men’s and women’s races with people who ride but aren’t fans of bicycle racing. I spend so much time explaining about the subtle team tactics, and how 90% of the riders have no hope or expectation of being there are the finish, and on and on, till they usually get bored and lose interest. But the two people I watched this race with are still talking about it.

      I understand CUL’s frustration. She wanted to go for a medal. She only had one teammate, and that wasn’t enough to pull back the break. It was the same calculation every other team made, and they were all ultimately frustrated. It was bicycling’s version of the prisoner’s dilemma, and Kiesenhofer either wittingly or unwittingly capitalized on that.

  29. Most comments ever?

    Think we’re all kind of fascinated because it was a race where two tactics were set to the extreme. Kiesenhofer clearly did a genius attack and for once it worked out. Inspirational gold medal.
    Team NL had nobody working but their failure to win only became apparent after they’d lost so it wasn’t all bad; up to the point of them understanding that it wasn’t at all good either.
    Those in a position to try things against NL did nothing, but their only real option was to wait for the sprint, and AVV’s final attack stole this opportunity. Tin-plate silver medal.

    It’s all been a learning experience. Riders at this year’s Worlds will pay more attention to the chalkboard moto and which car is in front.

    Still fascinating to see this all play out, though.

  30. I am late to this frankly brilliant post (chapeau Inrng!) and read straight thru all the comments. But only a few comments tangentially touched on my sense of the event. Here’s what factors I took into account based on what I’d observed the previous day in the men’s race, plus viewing the live broadcast (I started watching around 1:30am here in DC).
    • The men’s race was 100 km LONGER, yet Carapaz (and, for quite awhile) McNulty were really moving those last 25k. Irrespective of the repeated proclamations that the finishing circuit was not a gimme, and had tough, punchy sections, the winner managed to look fast during that entire finishing run. Carapaz TT’ed to win.
    • The women’s race course, being so much shorter, and with the relative quick finish, was in my estimation screaming for a strong TT specialist to get in a break and let the top-heavy Dutch team (and all the Dutch-team markers) to do their professional processional (the “we know what we’re doing” theory). I knew nothing about Kiesenhofer, but she obviously could do the math – I assume she’d seen the men’s race too, and knew the course well enough, and saw her way clear. When the commenter said she’s a strong TT rider I realized she fit the bill, plus the group was working together and not giving away any time without a fight.
    • Applying Chapatte’s Law (kudos again ,Inrng) minute by minute, and watching Kiesenhofer motor along (and starting to feel her pain in the late going), it was pretty clear she had the race in the bag from a long way out.
    • Conclusion: Kiesenhofer did not just take a flyer, she made a well-calculated gamble based on ‘counting the cards’.
    “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, to which she added “Smarter”.

  31. I think what “Looks like shit” is a race completely dominated by a team, Postal or Sky style. Haven’t read the article yet, but I hope Uttrup is referring to the lack of congrats and humility

  32. On the “is this good or bad for cycling” debate, note that Japan’s national broadcaster NHK has a wall of videos on their home page, and also their youtube channel. There are all plentiful medals for the Japanese athletes from skateboarding to the pool and judo, progress by the soccer team, the first even table tennis medal… and Anna Kiesenhofer as the “was it calculated? Mathematician wins gold”. By the looks of things the only non-Japanese athlete getting this treatment and an obvious highlight of the games so far that ranks alongside any home triumphs.

  33. KevinK: “… was very good for women’s cycling.”
    Just once could you preface one of your statements with IMHO? I don’t recall EVER seeing any of your claims presented as merely your humble opinion. They seem to always be declarations with the implication that anyone disagreeing must simply be a moron.
    Especially since in his case plenty of others, including women competitors in the race and knowledgeable female commentators would vehemently disagree with your statement.

  34. My new device seems to dissuade commenting at all. But maybe anyone calling a certain Danish rider CUL might desist in case it makes them look like an arse.

  35. It’s been a fascinating and excellent thread to read, to add to our host’s great writing.
    The highlight of the Games, for me, is the Womens 100m, fastest ever heats and the world record may be serious peril from several competitors. I can’t wait for that final.
    As a final comment, if the road cycling had a future pan flat Olympic course, would we even be guaranteed a sprint finish between the top fast men at its end? Or would someone sneak away Vini-style before then?

    • Ah the heady days of 2012, now said by many to be the dopingest Games ever.
      And the 100m, where a Kenyan athlete just got banned off for EPO.
      We are never guaranteed a sprint finish and no comment is ever ‘final’ until our inestimable and convivial host closes it off.

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