Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten threw her arms up in the air, her face a picture of ecstasy and joy.
That’s what you do when you think you’ve won Olympic gold – except she hadn’t.
That honor went to Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer, who capitalized on her rival’s confusion in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic women’s road race on Sunday to secure a shock win.
“When I crossed the line, I thought I had won,” said silver medalist Van Vleuten.
Kiesenhofer gave the performance of a lifetime to eclipse a field of big names and win the race, finishing in just under four hours.
The 30-year-old Austrian broke away from the leading group more than 40 kilometers from the end, holding her own on a demanding 147-kilometer course in the intense heat to win Austria’s first cycling gold medal since 1896.
Kiesenhofer spent much of the rest of the race so far ahead of the chasing pack that she was out of sight of the other cyclists.
Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
Anna Kiesenhofer was the underdog going into the cycling road race, having only taken up the sport in 2014.
Cyclists race without earpieces at the Olympics and that played a part in Van Vleuten’s confusion, according to the 38-year-old Dutch woman.
“This is an example (of what happens) if you ride an important race like this without communication. All World Tour races have communication, and now it’s the three of us standing here and wondering who has actually won,” added Van Vleuten, referring to teammates Marianne Vos and Anna van der Breggen.
“I’m gutted about that, of course,” said Van Vleuten.
If she was gutted, Van Vleuten was also pleased to have come away with a medal after she suffered a horror crash during the road race at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
“I’m really proud of the medal, because I did not have an Olympic medal. It’s also a silver medal with a shine on it, because I felt super good today,” said Van Vleuten.
“My goal was to be at my best ever level here, and I think I nailed that. It’s not the result we were hoping for, but for me personally, I think I did a really good race.”
Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Annemiek van Vleuten took silver in the women’s road race at the Tokyo Olympics.
Kiesenhofer, who doesn’t currently have a professional contract, only took up the sport in 2014, turning professional three years later.
According to the Olympics website, the Austrian said her ambition was “to compete at the 2020 Olympics Games in Tokyo.” She’s certainly done that and more.
Kiesenhofer isn’t just an accomplished cyclist – she has master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, England and a PhD in applied mathematics from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain.
“My legs were completely empty. I have never emptied myself so much in my whole life. I could hardly pedal any more. It felt like there was zero energy in my legs,” said Kiesenhofer after her gold medal success.
“I couldn’t believe it. Even when I crossed the line, it was like, ‘Is it done now? Do I have to continue riding?’ Incredible,” she added.
“I have really sacrificed so much for today. I wasn’t expecting to finish it off like that. I sacrificed everything even for a top-15 place and now to get this, for the sacrifices, it’s just such a reward, it’s incredible,” she added.
Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
Silver medalist Netherlands’ Annemiek Van Vleuten (left), gold medalist Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer (middle) and bronze medalist Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini (right) celebrate on the podium during the women’s road race medal ceremony.
Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini, who finished third, was also surprised by the way the race played out.
“I thought that Holland had everything in their hands but in the end sometimes when you play tactics too much and you think you are the strongest, you lose the race,” said Borghini, as she won bronze for the second Olympics in the row.
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