Anna Kiesenhofer took a shock solo win for Austria in the women’s Olympic cycling road race as the peloton got their sums wrong in chasing down the mathematician.
Kiesenhofer, who has not had a professional contract since 2017, was part of a breakaway that attacked at the very start of the 137-kilometre race to the Fuji International Speedway, and went solo with more than 40km still remaining. With no race radio and only small teams competing, the peloton did not realise that Kiesenhofer still had an advantage of more than five minutes at that point, and by the time Annemiek van Vleuten crossed the finish line 75 seconds after the Austrian, the Dutchwoman was celebrating thinking she had gold.
The Italian Elisa Longo Borghini took third while Lizzie Deignan was 11th for Great Britain, but it was Kiesenhofer crying tears of joy – and surprise – as she collapsed to the floor.
The 30-year-old studied maths at the University of Cambridge before collecting a PhD from the University of Catalonia, but more recently has been studying the effects of heat on the body – ideal preparation for racing in the humid conditions of Japan. She was part of a five-rider group that attacked from kilometre zero, and though it would whittle down to three riders fairly soon, their advantage moved north of 10 minutes at one point, a gap virtually unheard of in women’s cycling but aided here by the lack of communication and organisation.
When Kiesenhofer went solo still with 40 tough kilometres to go on a course that included almost 3,000 metres of climbing it seemed certain she had gone too soon, but the numbers were on her side. Her victory gives Austria a first gold at a summer Olympics since 2004.
Her fellow escapees Anna Plichta and Omer Shapiro were caught as the peloton entered the circuit for the final time – the moment when the group believed they were then fighting it out for gold.
Van Vleuten’s silver may not have been the medal she thought she had, but it should still count as a moment of redemption for the 38-year-old, who suffered three cracks in her spine in a horror crash at the Rio Olympics five years ago.