We joined the race with 114kms to go and the first attack of the day, Lotte Kopecky (BEL), she attacked early and the peloton had no desire to follow her out. A second attack came quickly after from Romy Kasper (GER), however it seemed the German team was attempting to chase them down at 109kms to go. Within 6kms though the pace in the peloton had dropped completely and the two leaders were being allowed to take a considerable lead.
With 100kms to go, Kopecky’s lead stretched to two-and-a-half minutes over her nearest chaser, Kasper, and another two minutes over the peloton. This however changed very quickly as when she arrived at the first climb, she had only two-and-a-half minutes over the peloton with Kasper pretty much caught at 16 seconds ahead. At 89kms to go Ellen van Dijk (NED) attacked the peloton with Giorgia Bronzini (ITA), Anna Plichta (POL) and Trixi Worrack (GER) joining her in this very strong attacked over the next kilometre. With these attacks and the peloton upping the pace, reports arrived that former world champion and one of the favourites, Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (FRA), was dropped from the peloton on the very first climb.
With this containing all the major nations in the race, excluding the USA, Australia and Great Britain, the onus was on those countries to reel them in, however at 84kms to go, Kristin Armstrong (USA) and Katrin Garfoot (AUS) had attacked to join the group chasing the lone leader. As fast as the attack went forward, so did Emma Pooley (GBR) in bringing the chase to them at the front of the peloton, and within a kilometre, the group was in the peloton’s sights and nearly caught.
The peloton seemed somewhat uninterested in these early attacks, so with this in mind Pooley attempted an attack followed by Gracie Elvin (AUS) and Marianne Vos (NED). The peloton hadn’t exactly upped the pace, however the difficult course was proving the great equaliser, and although a small crash, without any injuries, happened in the peloton at 71kms to go, by the time the race had 67kms remaining both Kopecky and the chasing group had been caught by the peloton.
The first climbs of the course seemed to completely blow the peloton apart with two groups forming at 65kms to go, however within 3kms the groups were back together. The peloton were bringing all the attacks back and seemingly on the second Grumari climb, they had decided to stop attacking each other as they were exhausting one another. It seems, however, that France didn’t get the memo, as just as this ceasefire seemed in effect, Audrey Cordon (FRA) attacked with 55kms to go.
While this attack took place, Vos was picking up water for her teammates, while this may seem insignificant, she is the defending Olympic champion, which says she doesn’t think she can win and therefore is doing domestic duty. Cordon was out on her own for 9kms, but with 46kms to go she was brought back into the peloton.
The race arrived back on the beautiful coast, and with crosswinds blowing, Germany took over the pace in an attempt to split the peloton. This unfortunately didn’t work, so Worrack attacked again, followed closely by Ferrand-Prevot. The pace of the peloton seemed to increase, however then it seemed all the major countries ,except Great Britain and the USA, decided to attack, putting these strong teams on the back foot. With this latest attack at 34kms to go, the lead rose to 50 seconds with Worrack, Vos, Ferrand-Prevot and Elvin being joined by Elena Cecchini (ITA) Malgorzta Jasinska (POL) and Anisha Vekemans (BEL).
The lead group had a gap of around a minute and maintained this lead up to the final climb of the day, with the peloton lazily chasing behind. The climb began at 26kms to go, however very quickly the leaders seemed to get Gold medal fever as they all but stopped working together. Ferrand-Prevot and Vos seemed to be the most willing to stay away, but by 22kms to go, the catch was made. After the catch, the pace was still high and racers began to be dropped, including early favourites for a medal such as Ferrand-Prevot, Vos and Pooley.
The pace was ever rising and it was truly showing with the majority of the peloton dropping backwards. With 20kms to go, only four remained at the front, Anna van der Breggen (NED), Mara Abbott (USA), Elisa Longo Borghini (ITA) and crucially, Annemiek van Vleuten (NED). At 18kms to go Emma Johansson (SWE), attempted to bridge the gap, and at exactly the same time, van Vleuten and Abbott attacked going clear as the others seemed to crack.
With 15kms to go, van Vleuten and Abbott had a lead of 48 seconds over the three chasers in van der Breggen, Longo Borghini and Johansson. van Vleuten attacked on the descent and although Abbott tried to go with her, van Vleuten quickly built a gap as the superior descender. She was building up a huge lead, but at 11kms to go, she was in a huge solo crash, into a ditch and back first onto a small wall. She wasn’t moving as Abbott passed her into the lead, and with medical staff on route, fingers were crossed she was ok.
With 8kms to go, Abbott arrived on the flat with a 38 second gap which would prove instrumental in the finish of the race. Although she had a lead, Abbott is not a flat racer and therefore she had to give it everything, with van der Breggen, Longo Borghini and Johansson chasing hard. The race was now in the final stages with Abbott out alone, chased by van der Breggen, Longo Borghini and Johnasson chasing then another group chasing them. The gaps were ever changing, however with 3kms to go, realistically only four people could win the Gold.
Abbott was giving absolutely everything, but with three behind her working hard she was slowly began to get reeled in. with 300m to go, heartbreak for the American as she was caught, and that was game over. As the sprint opened up, the winner seemed guaranteed, with Anna van der Breggen taking the Gold medal, Emma Johansson taking Silver and Longo Borghini taking Bronze to round out the medals. Abbott rode out of her skin for fourth, however it will be of little consolation to have come so close.
Just as a final note, Annemiek van Vleuten who had the worst crash of the two races, was rushed to hospital. Since the writing of this article, she has let the world know she is ok. She is fully conscious, aware, however still in intensive care, with three broken vertebrae. I think I speak for the world when I say get well soon.
Unlike the men’s race, the early race favourite won on the day, with some phenomenal racing from all the women involved, this should have been a triumph for women’s cycling. While this is the case, the crash and subsequent outrage about the course safety, will unfortunately over shadow what was a brilliant race.