Olympic cyclist celebrates thinking she won gold – but actually finished second

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When Annemiek Van Vleuten crossed the finish line, and raised her hands aloft to take in the applause of the crowd, it seemed to be the perfect comeback.

Five years ago, in Rio, she had looked set to claim the gold medal as she descended alone towards Copacabana beach, but a near-fatal crash meant she had to retire from the race.

And with an Olympic gold medal the only accolade missing from Van Vleuten's glistening palmarès the emotion was visible when she crossed the line.

However, there was one problem: she hadn't won the race, Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria had.

Just over a minute before Van Vleuten crossed the line, Kiesenhofer had also had her hands raised as she soaked in the cheering crowd after producing one of the rides of the season.

Kiesenhofer, who holds a doctorate of maths at Cambridge University, attacked during the first km of the 137km race with five other riders.

She left her breakaway competitors with 40km to go, and when the peloton passed the other four riders they forgot Kiesenhofer was still up the road.

All eyes were on the Dutch, who assembled, perhaps, the strongest squad in any Olympic sport in Tokyo with four riders all capable of winning, but they were hapless to stop the flying Austrian.

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“I thought I won, yes,” Van Vleuten said after the race, and the confusion had disappeared.

“At five km to go, Marianne [Vos] comes up to me and she didn’t know anymore. No one knew if everyone was back.

"This shows that such an important race without comms, all World Tour races are with comms. We are all wondering here who won."

Van Vleuten's teammate, Anna van der Breggen, the reigning World Champion said: "The tactics weren’t wrong, we just had not the right info. With our info, we did everything right."

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They were all outsmarted by the Austrian, who won Austria's first gold medal in cycling since the relaunch of the Olympics in 1896 in Athens.

Kiesenhofer's biggest victory up to the Olympics was a national title in 2018 and three national time-trial championships.

Italy's Elisa Longo Borghini rounded out the podium as Richard Carapaz of Ecuador took the men's event on Saturday.

  • Olympics
  • Tokyo 2020 Olympics

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