“Is it over? Should I keep pedaling?”
Anna Kissenhofer doesn’t have to go another mile in life if she doesn’t want to. The Austrian has already reached its peak. Relatively unknown before Tokyo 2021, she won the Olympic gold out of nowhere.
She is a mathematician by trade, with two degrees and a Ph.D., and is not part of any professional cycling team.
The 30-year-old cyclist had an astonishing performance – with lungs and legs in limit – managing to lead by more than a minute over 2019 world champion Dutchman Annemick van Vleuten.
Kiesenhofer’s advantage was so great that the Dutchwoman, not realizing she had finished second, celebrated at the finish line as if she had won, only to admit: “I was wrong.”
Wireless communication is not permitted in Olympic cycling, as in professional street racing.
“This is an example of what happens when you participate in an important race like this offline,” Van Vleuten said.
“I don’t think anyone paid any attention to her. I don’t know her. We thought we were doing well. We thought we were going for gold.”
From amateur cyclist to Olympic champion
Although her medal in Tokyo came as a surprise, Anna Kissenhofer has already shown signs of being a cyclist to be reckoned with.
Having studied mathematics at the Technical University of Vienna and then another degree from the University of Cambridge in the UK, she completed her PhD in Catalonia in 2016, where she was part of an amateur cycling team.
He currently works at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, where he combines research and education.
The Austrian began her cyclist career in 2014 after sustaining injuries that thwarted her dream of becoming a triathlete.
With his Catalan side, based near Girona, he won qualification for the Spanish National Cup in 2016.
That same year, she entered the Women’s International Tour de France, which included a stage at the famous Mont Ventoux.
Kiesenhofer managed to win the 94.9 km stage nearly four minutes ago. It took second place in the overall standings.
The following season, at the age of 26, she signed with the women’s team at Lotto Soudal, but after a series of problems in competitions, she was out of her contract and stopped cycling for a year.
She returned to the sport in 2019, winning the Austrian Road Racing and Time Test Championship, a title she repeated twice.
Despite these results, Kissenhofer went to Tokyo without a professional contract, but now wrote his name in his country’s history books, being the first person in his country to win an Olympic medal in cycling.
Kissenhofer also became the first Austrian to win a gold medal since the 2004 Athens Games.
By the end of the race, I probably barely realized the scale of her achievement, having completely collapsed on the track.
“I was just trying to get to the finish line,” he said. “My legs were totally tired.”
“I’ve never been so tired in my life. I could barely pedal. I felt like I had no energy in my legs. It’s so amazing. I sacrificed so much today. I didn’t expect it to end like this.”
How you surprised the cycling world
Kiesenhofer was one of five riders who got ahead of the rest of the group as the 137 km race began.
Chris Boardman – Olympic champion in Barcelona 1992 and BBC cycling commentator – saw at the time that the chances of success in this race were “one in a thousand”.
With a 70 km lead over the others, the group was reduced to three: Kissenhofer, Anna Plechta, from Poland, and Omar Shapira from Israel.
With almost 40 km remaining, Kiesenhofer sped forward and left the opponents behind.
Dutchman Van Vleuten, who had a horrific crash at Rio 2016 when she was the favourite, escaped from a peloton in a solitary race.
She had crashed earlier in the race, but with 25km left she was able to recover.
At that time, she and her colleagues were in pursuit of leaders and were able to catch up with Peleshta and Shapira.
The race would end with a long run on the racetrack, and before entering, Kissenhofer accelerated, leaving Plechta and Schapira behind.
Seeing the Poles and Israelis from afar, Van Vleuten increased the speed by about 10 kilometers, motivated by a possible victory. Van Vleuten was convinced she would reach the finish line first.
But she hadn’t realized that Kiesenhofer was already on top.
After crossing the finish line, the Austrian fell to the ground in tears, stunned by the result of the biggest victory of her career.
Then Van Vleuten and Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini arrived and won the silver and bronze medals.
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