Dutch rider Anna van de Breggen overtook USA’s Mara Abbott 150 meters from the finish line and outsprinted two other riders to win the Rio Olympics Women’s cycling road race Sunday afternoon, August 7, 2016.
Van de Breggen was part of a four-rider attack on the final climb of the race, 20 km from the finish line. These four: Abbot, van de Breggen and compatriot Annemiek van Vleuten, and Italy’s Elisa Longo-Borghini—chased by Sweden’s Emma Johansson, had been part of a ten-rider breakaway led by Abbott since km 23.
Van Vlueten attacked this four-rider group 18 km from the finish; Abbott struggled to cover the move, while Longo-Borghini and van de Breggen could not. Johansson caught the chasing pair 17 km from the finish, while Abbot caught van Vlueten at 16.8 km.
Abbott and van Vlueten finished the climb with 48 seconds on the chasing trio—and almost as soon as they crested the hill, light rain began to fall. Van Vlueten ignored the rain, pushing hard on the narrow, twisting decent. Abbott was more cautious, and lost time to van Vlueten.
Abbot’s caution paid off, as Van Vlueten crash hard and horribly at 50 mph on the descent, going headfirst over the handlebars and landing on her head and neck. Abbott had to pass her competitor, lying motionless on the pavement, and press on, knowing that she had a strong chance for Olympic gold, and that she was being pursued by three strong riders.
The Dutch cycling federation tweeted that van Vlueten was conscious and speaking and on her way to the hospital, shortly after the race ended.
Abbott had been working hard to catch the leading group for ten km before catching them and attacking over the top, and had then had led the charge up the final climb. A climber, she was at a disadvantage when she hit the flat section leading to Copacabana Beach. Her gap dropped steadily as her three chasers worked together, shrinking to ten seconds by the start of the final kilometer, and only three seconds 500 meters from the line.
The American rider was ridden down and overtaken just 150 meters from gold; she gave her all but she couldn’t hold off the orchestrated attack of van de Breggen, Longo Borhini, and Johansson.
Van de Breggen was the strongest of the three, and won the sprint to the line by nearly a bike length. Johansson took silver and Longo-Borghini, bronze.
Anna van der Breggen talksed to People.com about seeing her team mate van Vlueten motionless on the side of the road.
“I was pretty shocked, I think she crashed hard. I realized I was at the front of the team, so I had to chase. I did it for Annemiek. To see her like that, it’s a big shock.”
The Dutch rider was coming back from a broken pelvis sustained in a crash in the 2014 World Championships; Rio gold was the surest sign that her recovery was complete.