TOKYO (Reuters) – When Annemiek Van Vleuten crossed the line with her arms in the air at the Fuji International Speedway, the Dutchwoman thought she had won the women’s Olympic road cycling race on Sunday.
However, a few moments later, an emotional Van Vleuten realized she had finished second behind Austrian Anna Keisenhofer by a healthy margin of one minute and 15 seconds. “Oh Ruud, I was completely wrong,” Van Vleuten told her soigneur Ruud Zijlmans after the finish. “I didn’t realize it at all.”
Unlike the professional world tour events, riders in the Olympic races cannot communicate with their team via radio, and it appeared to be the undoing of Van Vleuten and her three teammates, who were not aware that the Austrian was still up the road.
Van Vleuten, who was leading the race in Rio five years ago before a horror crash ended her bid, appeared to hide her disappointment in a post-race interview with Dutch NOS TV. “I thought I was (number) one,” the 38-year-old said. “I was wrong. We didn’t get it.”
The Dutch women had won the previous two road racing golds. They once again started as heavy favorites on Sunday but, after allowing the breakaway group to open up an 11-minute gap, they were left racing for the remaining two podium positions. Several riders were under the impression that once Keisenhofer’s former breakaway companions, Omer Shapira and Anna Plichta, were caught, they would be racing to the finish together.
Van Vleuten’s team mate Anna van der Breggen was equally bemused with the final result, conceding she had not even heard of Keisenhofer before. “No, I didn’t know there was still a rider ahead,” the Rio 2016 champion said. “I don’t think anyone wrote her down. I don’t know her. How much can you do wrong, if you don’t know someone?” There was little clarity among the rest of the field as only a few riders congratulated Keisenhofer at the finish.
Britain’s Lizzie Deignan said the Dutch team may have had too many leaders. “What do you do in your team meeting when you’ve got four riders who can win the bike race? How do you decide? They’re all incredible riders, all very professional, but they needed to choose one leader probably,” Deignan said. (Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru and Mark Gleeson in Cape Town, editing by Ed Osmond)