Ever have something firmly in your grasp, utterly convinced it was yours, only to have it snatched from you in a gutting reveal?
For the Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten, a 38-year-old world champion, this was her Sunday morning.
van Vleuten, who cycled past the finish line with a big grin on her face and arms in the air, thought she had won Olympic gold. But not only was there someone way ahead of her, in another surprising twist, her competitor who did win gold is an amateur cyclist. Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer, a college lecturer who only started competitive cycling in 2014, had crossed the line more than a minute earlier.
The result of the women’s road race was a shocking upset. The Dutch team has dominated cycling in multiple world competitions and took home gold at Rio 2016.
According to van Vleuten, the confusion came from lack of race radios during the event. At the Olympics, riders aren’t allowed to use these communication devices, which is the norm in all UCI World Tour races.
The Dutch athlete said the bewilderment wasn’t just among her teammates, but other nations too. “In the most important race, you’re not allowed to ride with communication, which we usually do. It should make the race more interesting but it made the race more confusing,” van Vleuten said in a post-race press conference, according to sports outlet Cycling News.
But the event’s befuddlement shouldn’t cloud Kiesenhofer’s accomplishments. The 30-year-old cyclist won her country’s first gold medal in cycling since 1896.
During the race, she cycled the final 40 kilometers of the 137-kilometer course alone, and won by over a minute. In comparison, the silver and bronze medalists were separated by only 14 seconds.
Kiesenhofer considers herself an amateur cyclist “on paper.” She doesn’t have a professional contract. She went pro only in 2017 after switching to the sport a mere 3 years earlier, when injuries prevented her from running in triathlons and duathlons.
When she’s not pedaling for gold, she’s also an impressive mathematician. Kiesenhofer has a master’s degree in math from Cambridge University and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona.
van Vleuten was “gutted” by the outcome, but was also pleased about having won an Olympic medal, according to CNN. van Vleuten lost her chance at a medal during Rio 2016, when she suffered a horrific crash that left her with three spinal fractures and a concussion from falling headfirst.