TOKYO (Reuters) – From time to time the Olympics throws up a tale of the unexpected, a rank outsider prevailing against all the odds.
But Anna Kiesenhofer’s victory in the women’s road race on Sunday takes some beating.
The 30-year-old Austrian mathematics lecturer riding in her first Olympics was virtually unknown to an elite peloton of seasoned pros including a Dutch quartet boasting nine world road titles and golds at the last two Olympic road races.
They will not forget Kiesenhofer in a hurry, however, after she ambushed their plans for an orange procession in the foothills of Mount Fuji with a fairytale ride.
After escaping in a five-rider break right early in the 137km route, she then went solo for the last 40km in baking sunshine and held on for an audacious victory.
So unexpected was her gold medal that when Dutch three-times world champion Annemiek Van Vleuten crossed the line at the Fuji International Speeedway one minute and 15 seconds later she assumed she was the winner.
The 38-year-old Van Vleuten soon realised her error and the realisation that she had been beaten by a former triathlete who does not even ride professionally sunk in.
Van Vleuten, reigning champion Anna Van der Breggen and Marianne Vos had been tipped to dominate the race.
But they were given a basic lesson by a rider who had only ever won one international race — make sure you do your homework.
Even when Kiesenhofer and fellow escapees Anna Plitcha of Poland and Israel’s Omer Shapira reached the top of the day’s last climb with an eight-minute lead and around 50km left, confusion reigned in the pack.
Van Vleuten accelerated as if to hunt them down but was given no assistance by her mates who were more concerned with marking the big names in the pack than sharing the chase.
They later claimed they had a lack of information on how far Kiesenhofer was ahead and Van Vleuten did celebrate like a victory as she crossed the line, only to realise she had been beaten by a rider who gave a masterclass in race management.
“I mean I don’t need like high level math for for this kind of calculations, but it’s kind of my mindset,” Kiesenhofer, who has a PhD in mathematics and lectures at the University of Lausanne, told reporters.
“But I planned the race, I looked at the time, at the time where I might pass at some kilometres, how much food I have to take in and so on. I planned to attack at kilometre zero and I was happy I could get in front.
“That is something I could not take for granted because I am not good at riding in the peloton.”
Regular cycling followers are familiar with breakaways being ruthlessly pursued by the big fish, then swallowed.
Britain’s former Olympic champion Chris Boardaman, commentating for the BBC, threw off his natural support for compatriot Lizzie Deignan to will Kiesenhofer to victory in what he described as 1,000-1 gamble by the Austrian.
Yet Kiesenhofer, a national time trial champion, appeared to have it all under control as she gritted her teeth around the final laps of the Fuji race track.
“I am happy that I was not too scared and I just went for it,” she said. “I attacked and with the group we worked more or less together. I saw I was the strongest and I knew I had the climb before the long descent.
“I’m pretty good at descending so I got some more time and then it was just like a time trial to the finish.”
She is the first Austrian to win a cycling gold since the Adool Schmal’s victory on the track at the 1896 Athens Games.
It was also Austria’s first gold in any sport since 2004.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)