Rio 2016: Lizzie Armitstead misses out as Anna van der Breggen wins gold after Annemiek van Vleuten crash

Van Vleuten looked on course for gold until she suffered a horrific crash on the steep Rio descent

Kevin Garside
Rio de Janeiro
Sunday 07 August 2016 20:20
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World champion Lizzie Armitstead spared herself lasting scrutiny at the Olympic Games finishing only fifth in a women’s road race that left one Dutch racer unconscious and another, Anna van der Breggen, clutching gold.

Even that was too good an outcome for those who would not have had Armitstead anywhere near Olympic participation following the imbroglio of her three missed drugs tests.

Armitstead remained defiant in the face of continued criticism, not least by many of her rivals in the peloton, but admitted that the trauma of recent weeks had rendered her “a zombie” at times.

“I can’t feel sorry for myself. This is sport and that’s what it’s about. You open yourself up for judgement. I never gave up and for that I can be proud of myself. Obviously I’ve lost quite a lot of sleep and it’s been a hard time, but it’s not an excuse,” she said.

“Once I’ve got a number on my back I’m a totally different person and I’m focused and it didn’t enter my mind once in the race. I was totally focused on what I do best, which is ride my bike quickly.”

BBC pundit Chris Boardman questioned the safety of the course in the downhill section at Vista Chinesa that saw Annemiek van Vleuten knocked unconscious in a horrible crash whilst leading the chase for gold.

“I’m actually quite angry because I looked at the road furniture and thought nobody can crash here and get up. This was way past technical, this was dangerous,” he said.

Team GB were among the last units to reach the start line. Scrutiny immediately fell upon Armitstead, a cameraman stationed to her left as the clock ticked down. She did her best to focus.

There were some nervous exchanges with team-mate Nikki Harris to her right, and a smile to acknowledge the episodic shouts of “Go Lizzie” from the tight cabal of family and friends in the crowd.

Armitstead was the main focal point from the get-go (Getty)

There was early drama, too, when Armitstead, who else, suffered a puncture inside the first 10 kilometres. The subsequent delay awaiting the delivery of a replacement bike forced Armitstead into a punishing lone pursuit to catch the group, just as team-mate Emma Pooley unwittingly stretched the peloton at the head of the race.

Convention dictates a team-mate drops back to help the stricken. Since there is no radio contact between team and rider there was no sign of that from Harris, a detail that evinced what looked like a stiff rebuke from Armitstead when she finally rejoined the group.

Anna van der Breggen celebrates winning gold in the women's road race

The heat spike that blazed thoughout the men’s race had fallen back to seasonal temperatures in the low 20s as the peloton powered towards the day’s last climb, Vista Chinesa, in the final hour of the contest.

Just as that very hill decided the outcome of the men’s race so too did it determine the medal hopefuls among the women, with the added complication of drizzle in the tree-lined descent.

Van Vleuten ate the ground beneath her on the way down until it ate her, tipping her over the handlebars and painfully out of the race. She lay motionless for a sickening period, but the Dutch Cycling Federation later confirmed that Van Vleuren was conscious and “OK”, but had to be taken to hospital.

Annemiek van Vleuten suffered a horrific accident in the women's road race

Mara Abbott of the United States was left 23 seconds clear and looked the likely winner until the final three kilometres when the trio behind began their inexorable pursuit.

That late burst for the line is one of road cycling’s greatest gifts to sport. Abbott ran out of legs in the final 1,000 metres as the beastly trio behind gorged on her fatigue.

Armitstead had hoped to be among the predatory pack but ultimately left herself with too much to do on the final eight-kilometre flat section of a testing course.

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