What's Cool In Road Cycling

Kopecky and Vekemans Animate Olympic Road Race

Yesterday the women’s road race was scheduled at the Olympic Games in Rio. Six riders from the Lotto Soudal Ladies team were selected for their country. Just like the men’s race it became a thrilling finale, unfortunately overshadowed by a severe crash of Annemiek van Vleuten. At the end the Dutch rider Anna van der Breggen could put on the gold medal at Copacabana Beach.

Around noon the peloton left Copacabana Beach and set course to the Grumari Circuit, which they had to cover twice. Twenty kilometres after the start the Belgian rider Lotte Kopecky attacked. Soon she had two minutes advantage. A counterattack of the German rider Romy Kasper got neutralised and then a chasing group of five was formed: Armstrong, Bronzini, Plichta, Van Dijk and Worrack. In the peloton Emma Pooley, of Great Britain, raised the pace. When the advantage of the leaders got bigger again she jumped away from the peloton, but the others weren’t willing to let her go. With less than seventy kilometres left to cover, Kopecky and the five riders that had bridged to her were reeled in as well.

A few kilometres further Germany, with Claudia Lichtenberg, came to the front of the peloton. Later they sent Trixi Worrack to the front again. She was part of a front group of seven, including the Belgian rider Anisha Vekemans. It was a strong group with also Cecchini, Ferrand-Prévot, Elvin, Jasinska and Vos. At the bottom of the 8.9 kilometres long climb of the Vista Chinesa Circuit they had an advantage of 1’18”. On the hard and steep parts their lead got reduced very quickly. Mara Abbott, from the USA, set a really high pace. The Italian rider Elisa Longo Borghini and the Dutch duo Anna van der Breggen and Annemiek van Vleuten were the only ones who could follow her.

Before the top van Vleuten accelerated, only Abbott could join her. It started raining in the six kilometres long descent. Annemiek van Vleuten rode away from her companion, but then she had a terrible crash. That way Mara Abbott got alone in front. In the last hectometres she was caught by Johansson, Longo Borghini and van der Breggen. Van der Bregegn beat Emma Johansson in the sprint and is the new Olympic champion. Longo Borghini took bronze.

Lotte Kopecky: “It was a hard course and I definitely wanted to do something so I could be satisfied after the race. In the beginning there was a headwind and the pace in the peloton wasn’t too high. I decided to attack and hoped one or two riders would join me, but nobody did. At first I thought what have I gotten myself into, but I decided to go full and see where that would get me. Apparently there was no team that wanted to lead the chase in the peloton, that was an advantage for me. I thought that when the five chasers would join me we could ride together for a while, but when they caught me also the peloton closed the gap. Afterwards I could stay in the peloton until the last hard climb. My race was successful. Also the Belgian federal coach was satisfied that we showed something.”

“Wednesday I will ride the time trial. It’s difficult to guess which result I can set. Just like yesterday I will give my all. The condition is very good. I expect the reigning world champion Linda Villumsen, Ellen van Dijk and Anna van der Breggen will battle for the medals. For Van der Breggen the time trial was the big goal here in Rio. She is now already the Olympic road champion and will be close again in the time trial. Tomorrow I’ll probably do another recon of the Grumari Circuit, it will be good to take the descents with the time trial bike.”

Anisha Vekemans: “In the beginning I was stressed, because I was afraid of the cobblestone section on the first circuit. When we had passed the cobbles for the second and last time it was a relief. Then I joined a breakaway. I knew I had to keep an eye on Elena Cecchini, if she joins a break it’s often the right one. It was fantastic to be in a group with riders like Vos and Ferrand-Prévot. We rode together really well, only the Australian rider didn’t cooperate. When the pace dropped, Vos was the one to raise it again.”

“I gave my all in the run-up to the last climb. I knew it would be over there. Still, I was amazed that only a select group passed me by. I really suffered on the climb and it didn’t seem to end. I wanted to fight for my position. Just before the top I nearly joined the group in front of me, but I held back in the descent. That’s because of a crash in the past and also because I knew it was a dangerous descent.”

“Before the race I had said I didn’t want to stay anonymously in the peloton and I achieved my goal, so I can be happy. Also Lotte rode a strong race, with a long solo attack. We showed we were worthy of the selection. As Belgians we animated the race, so we can be proud. The next days I will enjoy the Olympic atmosphere and Wednesday I will cheer on Lotte in the time trial.”

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