She Broke Away at Start of Race, Figured She'd Be Caught—but Wasn't

Anna Kiesenhofer stuns Olympic cycling with her gold medal win
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 26, 2021 1:51 AM CDT
Champion Thought She'd Won Gold. But No, It Was This Math Ph.D.
Anna Kiesenhofer of Austria, crosses the line solo to win the gold medal in the women's cycling road race at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, July 25, 2021, in Oyama, Japan.   (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

As Dutch champion cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten crossed the finish line of the Olympic women's road race Sunday, she raised her arms in the air, assuming she'd come in first. Not so: Anna Kiesenhofer, an Austrian cyclist who wasn't on any pre-race list of contenders, had crossed 75 seconds prior. Her gold medal win stunned the cycling world, the Wall Street Journal reports. The 30-year-old former pro, who got her mathematics Ph.D. and now teaches and researches, also stunned herself: She says she had no medal expectations coming to Tokyo, and that finishing in the top 25 would have been nice. She hasn't been part of a team since 2017, coaches herself, and came up with her own Olympic plan, Cycling News reports.

She decided to try to break away early and see how long the peloton allowed her to remain in the lead, assuming someone would eventually overtake her during the 85-mile race. But as the peloton broke apart and the original breakaway group was dealt with, some riders, like van Vleuten, apparently didn't realize Kiesenhofer was still so far ahead. (The bronze medal winner, Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy, says she did realize it.) The Olympics does not allow race radios, which are used in professional races to alert riders of who is still ahead of them, and van Vleuten cited that as a reason for her confusion. This is Austria's first cycling medal in 125 years, the Washington Post reports. (More Tokyo Olympics stories.)

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