An underdog road cyclist won so big that her opponents forgot she existed

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OYAMA, JAPAN - JULY 25: Anna Kiesenhofer of Team Austria celebrates winning the gold medal on day two of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Fuji International Speedway on July 25, 2021 in Oyama, Shizuoka, Japan. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
30-year-old Austrian Anna Kiesenhofer put so much distance between her and the pack that the rest of the riders seemed to forget she was even in the race. (Getty)

Imagine crossing the finish line in an Olympic race, thinking you’ve won a gold medal, only to find out you were actually over a minute behind the first-place finisher.

Unfortunately, for Dutch rider Annemiek van Vleuten, she doesn’t have to imagine, because that is exactly what happened to her Sunday during the women’s cycling road race. She crossed the line assuming she was an Olympic champion, only to be handed a silver medal instead.

Usually, a second-place finish at the Olympics is something to be cherished. However, it is a much tougher pill to swallow when you thought for a brief moment that you would be standing on top of the podium.

The reason for all this mayhem? A shocking, brilliant ride from 30-year-old Anna Kiesenhofer from Austria.

Not on anyone’s radar heading into the race, the Austrian cyclist broke away from the pack early in the race and never looked back. She put so much distance between her and the pack that the rest of the riders seemed to forget she even existed.

In fact, van Vleuten was not the only rider that was confused, as British rider Lizzie Deignan also believed the Dutch rider had won gold while being interviewed by BBC.

It is hard not to feel for van Vleuten. The heavy favourite coming into the race, the rider from the Netherlands was also hoping for some Olympic redemption, as a devastating crash at the Rio Olympics ended her gold medal aspirations in 2016.

First an injury, now pure confusion. Talk about back-to-back frustrating Olympic races.

“I didn’t know,” van Vleuten told reporters after the race on Sunday. “I was wrong, I didn’t know.”

Hearts break for the Dutch rider, and rightfully so. But at the Olympics Games, where there is disappointment for some, there is satisfaction for others.

And you would be hard-pressed to find an athlete feeling more satisfied with a performance than Kiesenhofer.

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