It was two consecutive Dutch gold medals in the women’s road race Sunday, with Anna van der Breggen winning another thriller in Rio. 2012 winner Marianne Vos was an early factor and came in 9th. As on Saturday the outcome of the race was affected by a bad crash.

The women faced a compact version of Saturday’s men’s race, with two laps of the Grumari and one of the Vista Chinesa circuit for 136.9-km. It was reported as hotter and windier than Saturday.

Canada’s contingent–Leah Kirchmann, Tara Whitten and Karol-Ann Canuel–was ready to roll.

For the first 21-km a few failed surges and Lizzie Armistead’s mechanical comprised the main action. Then Belgian Lotte Kopecky bolted on the bunch. After Kopecky pulled out 3:00 the Germans began to lift the pace. On the first of the two small climbs on the Grumari circuit, Dutch ace Ellen Van Dijk lit out after Kopecky, soon joined by Italian Giorgia Bronzini, Germany Trixie Worrack, Pole Anna Plichta and American Kristin Armstrong.

After plenty of sparring on the first Grumari circuit, the gaps between break, chase and peloton were small. Before the last circuit Tara Whitten climbed off the bike. On the first climb of the last circuit, the race re-formed. But the pace of the Americans on the front split up the field, with French rider Pauline Ferrand-Prevot drifting to the back. The gap between the two sections increased on the descent.

Heading to the tougher Vista Chinesa section along the beach, the two groups, both whittled down through attrition, joined together and Van Dijk had to shut down a move from Worrack.

French rider Audrey Cordon surged up the road. Various moves flared off, including one including Ferrand-Prevot, but they all came to naught and Cordon surrendered. It was tense.

With 13-km to the big Vista Chinesa climb and its perilous perilous descent, Worrack made another kick and Ferrand-Prevot and Vos were among the six who joined in. It was a dangerous bunch, pulling out 1:15 before the road tilted up.

The Americans whipped along the peloton and started to yank back time as the gradients bit. Mara Abbott’s work helped make the catch with 23-km remaining on the big time. A fifteen-strong group excluding Ferrand-Prevot carried on up the hill. Armitstead, Vos and American UCI Women’s WorldTour leader Megan Gaurnier struggled.

From the group that Abbott had done so well to fragment, van der Breggen and Italian Elisa Longo Borghini rushed away, but Abbott and van der Breggen’s teammate Annemiek van Vleuten came across.

Just as Swede Emma Johannson looked to be about to make the quartet a quintet, van Vleuten hit the gas with only Abbott able to claw her way back. The leading duo started the technical, moist drop with 50-seconds over their nearest pursuers.

Just as van Vleuten had dropped away from Abbott, Saturday’s ghosts came back to haunt the race. Van Vleuten crashed heavily and looked badly hurt.

With 10-km of flat roads to go Abbott had a 39-second lead on the chasers: Johannson, van der Breggen and Longo Borghini. Gradually, Armitstead’s chase group came closer to van der Breggen’s. Although chase one was making little gains, the Armitstead group couldn’t make the junction.

With 2-km to go the gap was 17-seconds. It was desperately close. They caught Abbott with 500-metres to go and then immediately tussled in the sprint, with La Flèche Wallonne Féminine winner van der Breggen outpowering Johannson, who also earned silver in Beijing 2008. Tired Abbott was excluded from the medals.

Everyone was very concerned about van Vleuten, who van der Breggen rode for after the shock of seeing her prone on the pavement.

Top Canadian Karol-Ann Canuel was 25th, 5:07 back and Leah Kirchmann 38th at +10:02. Only 50 riders finished the race.

“It was a really aggressive race,” Canuel said. “We weren’t sure what to expect with such a small pack, but it was aggressive. The first circuit went well and we were always in good position. Leah did an amazing job to stay with me and in position us well. She said she wasn’t feeling as good today, so it was better to support me. Leah tried to bridge across [to a breakaway group], which was a good move but it was brought back.”

“After the first circuit I knew I wasn’t feel great on the climbs,” Kirchmann said. “So either I needed to get in a breakaway to anticipate the final climb, or if I was still in the group, work to put Karol-Ann in good position, and that’s what our plan became.”

“When we hit the final circuit,” Canuel said, “I didn’t have the legs to follow the leaders, and I just had to climb at my own pace. I finished with a small group behind, but I had a pretty good day, I think. It was good to do the road race before the time trial [next Wednesday]. Now, I just have to recover well. I’m really motivated for the time trial.”

“It was really tough out there today,” Kirchmann said. “I think this is one of the toughest one-day courses I have ever raced on. The riders were really aggressive and we had the wind and the steep climbs. So overall it was a really hard day. It was a Classics course mixed with a Giro stage.”

2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympic Games Women’s Cycling Road Race
Gold: Anna van der Breggen (The Netherlands) 3:51:27
Silver: Emma Johansson (Sweden) s.t.
Bronze: Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) s.t.
25) Karol-Ann Canuel +5:07
38) Leah Kirchmann +10:02


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