The Olympic Games women’s road race was utterly wonderful from start to finish. It was proper edge-of-your-seat stuff as the field essentially stuck two fingers up at anyone who has shunned women’s racing as being less entertaining than their male counterparts.
I loved the road races at this year’s Olympics. The men’s race was great, but the women’s in my opinion was even better. From the gun there were attacks, counter attacks, multiple teams playing their hands. There was tension, unpredictability, excellence from an American rider who nearly didn’t even get to ride the Games. There was smart but unlucky racing from Villumsen, disaster that no one could wish on anyone in the form of Annemiek van Vleuten; and finally tearful triumph for Anna van der Breggen.
The Netherlands did everything right, and what’s more they did everything right even when it was all going horribly wrong. They were definitely the team to beat, with defending champion Marianne Vos in the squad, but really the race could have gone to almost any one of the four-woman squad as they all chipped in aggressively to eventually claim the gold medal.
It could be argued that Vos was below her best, but she played a vital role in the race, attacking in what would eventually be the race winning breakaway, before falling behind on the monstrous final climb that felt like agony just looking at the screen. Hats off to Ellen van Dijk, the unsung hero who shook the race up time and time again as she showed once again that the battle goes to those who descend well as much as those who can climb, time trial or sprint.
Speaking of descents it is almost certain that the gold medal would have gone to the Netherlands anyway, but more likely to van Vleuten had she gotten to the bottom of the hill safely. Alas the descent that stumped Vincenzo Nibali, Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte et al did the same for the Dutch woman. We are only glad that our latest reports suggest that van Vleuten is on the mend.
Chapeau to the valiant Lotte Kopecky. What do you do when you have no race radio and the only communication are the race commissaire motorbikes? Remember that although Kopecky had no feedback to the team car she would have received timing updates and had the option of sitting up and waiting for any one of the attackers who tried to gun it out of the peloton. But she didn’t. Her name mightn’t be remembered when we look back on this race in years time, but she more than merits a mention as the gutsy rider who decided to take it from the top and give it a go. She did and the result was the larger part of the day out in front of the best riders on earth.
Linda Villumsen was always going to have a tough day out today. When you are the solo Kiwi amongst a field that contains teams full of medal contenders, it’s not going to be an easy ride. Nevertheless Villumsen played her cards well, I think she was just unlucky. She watched the moves go up the road, knowing that it wasn’t time yet. Then when it was time she was just a little too late and from there fatigue did to her what it did to many others over the course of the day. I’m looking forward to seeing Linda in the time trial and what she can accomplish against the clock.
Heartbreak was a two-way thing at the women’s road race, as van Vleuten hit the deck, and her breakaway companion, Mara Abbott, was denied within the final 250m of the line. While Rafal Majka’s catch was a little easier to swallow, the tension was absolutely palpable as Abbott came just metres from victory; and what’s worse had to settle not just for not winning, but not medalling at all in fourth place. She climbed like a champion, descended with all necessary caution, time trialled for dear life; only to come up desperately short.
All in all, as a spectator, I can’t praise highly enough the way the women’s race was ridden. In a part of cycling that is often unfairly criticised for its perceived lack of interest, the Olympic Games featured a field of women ready and willing to go gun-ho for a shot at glory. What transpired in just under 4 hours of racing was some of the best one-day racing I have seen. It was the road race that had everything, full of riders who gave everything, and a result that – even as a non-Dutch, Swede, Italian, American etc – was deeply satisfying.