Annemiek van Vleuten was convinced she was taking home the gold when she crossed the finish line in the women’s road race at Tokyo 2020. She quickly celebrated. The 38-year-old cyclist was a pre-race favorite for the top of the podium. But it was Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer that was decorated in gold!
A now-viral video of the 137-kilometer (85 miles) road race shows the dramatic victory-turned-disappointment. Annemiek van Vleuten crossed the finish line in spectacular fashion, several yards ahead of any other competitor. Thinking she was a shoo-in for first place, van Vleuten pumped her arms into the air as though she was the champion.
The cyclist’s excitement was quickly deflated when she learned the truth. Anna Kiesenhofer – an underdog from Austria – had already crossed the finish line 75 seconds before and was taking her place on the Olympic podium. The upset was extremely confusing to Kiesenhofer’s fellow racers. It was like something out of a dream for Annemiek van Vleuten, who had her Olympic goals realized and crushed almost instantaneously.
Settling for silver, van Vleuten took the podium like a champ. Standing alongside Anna Kiesenhofer and bronze medalist, Elisa Longo Borghini, van Vleuten was ecstatic to medal at Tokyo 2020. Still, a first-place victory would have been better.
The confusing outcome was more than just an underdog story. It was a cautionary tale for racers everywhere: Never underestimate your competitors!
While Dutch athlete Annemiek van Vleuten was a shoo-in for victory, the rest of the pack underestimated the Austrian champ. Anna Kiesenhofer slipped by unnoticed in the first portion of the race, building a lead so massive that the cyclists behind her forgot she was winning. By the time Kiesenhofer crossed the finish line the rest of the cyclists were too far away to see the stunning victory.
While underdog Anna Kiesenhofer was celebrating her victory off the course, the rest of the pack still thought gold was up for grabs. The confusion was made even worse because radios are not permitted at the Olympics, so no one knew that Kiesenhofer had already won.
While accustomed to hearing it loud and clear during a race, the other cyclists had no idea the race for gold was over. So, all urgency was out the door. van Vleuten still thought she was a shoo-in for success.
Annemiek van Vleuten was the most noticeable victim in this strange series of events. After taking in the sweet sensation of victory, Vleuten was forced to let it all go – she had not actually won.
“I didn’t know,” van Vleuten admitted. “I was wrong. I thought I had won. I’m gutted about this, of course. At first, I felt really stupid, but then the others also did not know who had won.”
The Dutch cyclist wasn’t the only one confused. Lizzie Deignan from Great Britain – who finished in 11th place – congratulated Annemiek van Vleuten as though she won gold. Admitting her mistake, Deignan said that she didn’t know “anything” about Kiesenhofer and called her a “surprise winner.”
When discussing her victory, Anna Kiesenhofer said that she “couldn’t believe it, even when I crossed the line.” She continued, explaining that “I planned to attack at kilometer 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.”
While it was a stunning success for the Austrian cyclist, the outcome was disappointing for Annemiek van Vleuten. van Vleuten had her Olympic dreams crushed in 2016 when she was hurt in a horrifying crash on the Rio cycling course.
The Dutch cyclist was poised to take gold in the women’s road race but with just 6 miles to go in the 87-mile course, van Vleuten lost control and flipped off her bicycle. Smashing into the shoulder on the side of the road, van Vleuten lost consciousness and broke three bones. With her hopes dashed, van Vleuten was ready to take back her title in Tokyo 2020.
Though all seems lost, Annemiek van Vleuten is optimistic. While enjoying her silver medal she looks to the future and hopes she gets another chance at gold.