• Anna van der Breggen is overcome by emotion just after crossing the finish line (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
It was mixed emotions in a dramatic finale to the womens Olympic road race after race leader Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands) crashed out on the final descent, with her countrywoman, Anna van der Breggen taking the victory.
By
Cycling Central

8 Aug 2016 - 7:04 AM  UPDATED 8 Aug 2016 - 8:10 AM

After a furious ascent of the main climb of the race, the Vista Chinesa, Mara Abbott and Annemiek van Vleuten emerged as the strongest climbers. The pair had a comfortable 50 second advantage over the next group of three riders behind at the top of the climb.  

Van Vleuten looked to take off and push for the win on the descent and quickly took a gap over the tentative Abbott, but she took one risk too many, misjudging a corner and crashing in sickening fashion. This led to a pursuit showdown on the flat run into the line between next on the road, Mara Abbott (USA), and the chasing group of three. The American was overtaken with the line in sight and van der Breggen (Netherlands) taking the win for her downed compatriot. 

As it happened

The 141.5 kilometre course began with the rolling neutral section out of Copacabana beach and the early portion of the race was tackled conservatively, with the small team sizes meaning that teams weren't overkeen to squander team-mates on over ambitious moves.

World champion Lizzie Armitstead (United Kingdom) was coming off a rough week in the press after her successful appeal of her ban for missing three doping controls. An early puncture saw her take a while to come back through the convoy and she was visibly irate with her team-mate Nikki Harris when she rejoined the peloton.

Lotte Kopecky (Belgium) kicked off the action, attacking as the peloton just drifted along, surging clear. Romy Kasper (Germany) attempted to bridge over some time later, but with the gap already at 2’30 and no impression made on the advantage after trying to bridge over for some time, Kasper opted to go back to the peloton.

Kopecky had a maximum advantage of four minutes over the peloton as the riders tackled the circuit that included the climb of Grumari and the cobbled section that caused so much difficulty in the mens race.  

Just after the first cobbled section there was an attack from Trixi Worrack (Germany), Ellen Van Dijk (Netherlands), Giorgia Bronzini (Italy) and Anna Plichta (Poland).  The group of four established a gap and began eating away into the advantage of lone leader Kopecky.

Kristin Armstrong (USA) and Katrin Garfoot (Australia) attacked to ensure their countries didn’t miss out on the move and Armstrong managed to bridge over. Surprisingly Garfoot didn’t continue the race from that point, dropping out off camera after appearing to have done all the work necessary to cover the attack for Australia.

Garfoot's unlikely path to Rio
It’s a long way from the Balmoral B-grade club criteriums to the pressure and the atmosphere of the Rio de Janiero Olympics. Few would have thought it possible for a 29-year-old making her racing debut in Murarrie, but with the team for the Games set to be announced soon Katrin Garfoot is all but certain to be announced as completing the unlikely feat.

The next lap of the cobbled circuit saw the peloton come back together, with Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) prominent on the front of the peloton to ensure that the race came back together. Small attacks and skirmishes off the front of the main bunch saw the bunch lengthen and compress, depending on the amount of pressure put on.

Audrey Cordon (France) made a move that gained a gap with 52 kilometres to go and it was a ragged and uncommitted reaction by the peloton, without any nation really claiming responsibility for the chase. She was recaptured with 46 kilometres remaining as riders began to think about the upcoming nine kilometre climb of Vista Chinesa.

The Germans were aggressive on the flat and Trixi Worrack instigated a major attack with 38 kilometres left, soon joined by Marianne Vos (Netherlands), Gracie Elvin (Australia), Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France), Elena Cecchini (Italy), Malgorzata Jasinka (Poland), Anisha Vekemans (Belgium). They quickly established a sizeable gap, with over a minutes advantage as they moved into the base of the decisive Vista Chinesa climb.

The gap evaporated as the peloton charged up the early slopes of the Canoas section of the climb. The pace of the main bunch was evident from the quality of the riders dropped early on, world champion Lizzie Armitstead, Giro Rosa winner Megan Guarnier, Vos and Ferrand-Prevot all dropped.

The leading group eventually established itself, composed of Mara Abbott (USA), Emma Johansson (Sweden), Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy), Moolman-Pasio, Evelyn Stevens (USA), Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands) and Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands). Van Vleuten was the first to put the hurt on with a decisive attack, gapping all of her erstwhile companions except Abbott.

Abbott had a reputation for being a poor descender after arguably missing her chance of winning the Giro Rosa this year because of one disastrous descent. So with the descent from the Vista Chinesa claiming so many of the male candidates to crashes with its technical nature, she went straight to the front to try and ride the Dutch woman off the wheel.

At the top of the climb, Abbott’s pacemaking resulted in a 50 second lead for the pair over the nearest chasing group of Longo Borghini, van der Breggen and Johansson. Van Vleuten wasted no time attacking on the descent, quickly distancing Abbott.

On a tight corner, van Vleuten took a very aggressive line and a bit too much speed. Realising her mistake, she braked sharply but ended up going over her handlebars and landing awkwardly headfirst in the deep, recessed gutter on the side of the road.

It was a disturbing scene as she lay unmoving as Abbot passed her shortly after with the American moving into the lead of the race.

Onto the flat run into the finish line and Mara Abbott’s disadvantage was that she had to fight solo against a chasing group of three riders. Her 38 second lead at the bottom of the descent was gradually whittled down by the concerted chase trio chasing behind.

She had a 20 second lead with 2.5 kilometres remaining but she was clearly hurting as she struggled to hold off her pursuers. As the seconds were eliminated off her lead and the distance to go ticked down, it was clear that it would be desperately close.

As the finish line loomed within sight Abbot was passed with 150 metres remaining as Elisa Longo Borghini led out the sprint. Anna van der Breggen launched from the rear position in the group to power to the line and take the win.

Emma Johansson made a late run to close the gap to the Dutch woman, but it was a bit too late and she had to settle for silver. Longo Borghini finished in third as a spent Abbott came in fourth.

The Aussies

The Australian women appeared to be riding with the consistent strategy of setting things up for Amanda Spratt in the finale. Elvin was the most active in marking moves, consistently sitting on the back of the potentially dangerous attacks and not contributing to the pace-making. This policing tactic didn't really pay off in the end as Spratt was distanced when the race blew apart on the early slopes of the Vista Chinesa. She battled on to finish 4'09 behind the winner in 15th. 

Gracie Elvin gives us a crash course in Olympic road race cycling
Two-time national road champion Gracie Elvin provides some insight from within the peloton about Olympic road race prep and what to expect.