Olympic Road Races

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Man, could anyone have predicted the finishes of the men’s and women’s Olympic Road Races. That was crazy and exciting bike racing.   Many would argue for Paris-Roubaix or the World Championships, but in reality, the Olympics have finally become the single most prestigious one day race in cycling.  It took a while.

There was a lot of heartbreak left out there on the road.  I didn’t watch the men’s road race, except for the final bit, but I did see the last hour or so of the women’s race.  But from reading about the men’s finish, then watching the women’s end, it is apparent that the descent really decided the results.

I’m not knocking anyone’s ability level here.   There were some riders that had pretty good descending credentials that didn’t finish the races.

If you look at the final groups heading down the final descent, 3 men and then 2 women.  In reality, 4 medals were lost out of the 5 riders.  In the women’s race, Annemiek van Vleuten, from Holland, had the race won.  That is if she could have managed to not crash.  And she crashed dramatically.  She had disposed of Mara Abbott (USA) nearly the second the road started down.

The road was a little wet and Van Vleuten rear wheel did a minor slide.  It put her into a trajectory that pointed her straight into a narly curb.  She must have tapped her front brake because she was instantly high-sided over the bars, landing head first into that very curb.  It was not good at all.

Mara was overly caution, and it cost her too.  I say that, but look what happened to Annemiek. She had over a minute at the top of the descent and lost 30 seconds to the 3 chasers going down.  She only needed less than 5 seconds at the finish to have a gold medal in her pocket.  It was an unbelievable ride, but not to be.

In the men’s race, 2 out of 3 of the leaders crashed.  Sergio Henao (Colombia), and Vincenzo Nibali (Italy), both, most likely, would have won medals, but crashed so close to the finish. Nibali has historically be known as a super fast descender, but he had some issues in the rain at the Tour last month.  And he had a huge issue in Rio.

Like I said above, falling on that descent wasn’t something to be ashamed of.  It could have been no ones fault, just your tire hit the wrong 1 cm square of pavement.  But it is strange that one section of a course could decide so many Olympic medals and riders careers.



This isn’t for the faint hearted to watch.  If that isn’t you, then skip to about 1:40 in the video to see the crash from a different angle.


38 thoughts on “Olympic Road Races

  1. chris

    The road surface just drops off in a jagged mess before it reaches the curb. Hard to imagine the officials saw this as acceptable.

    1. davidh

      It looks like a ditch between the curb and the edge of the pavement. There is less road than it appears at first glance, and it is deep enough to cause a rider to hit the brakes in a panic. I’m glad her injuries weren’t any worse.

  2. Kurt Bauer

    “Many would argue for Paris-Roubaix, but in reality, the Olympics have finally become the single most prestigious one day race in cycling.” Please . . .

  3. Yep

    Man she went into that turn waaaay too fast… that was not apparent from the tv coverage. Glad she’s gonna be ok, that looked horrible.

    1. Joe

      Yes, too fast and she took the wrong line for a decreasing radius curve. She should have started wide and taken a late apex, but instead she was already on the inside entering the turn, leaving her nowhere to go when it tightened up.

  4. Krakatoa East of Java

    Watching her go into that turn, I thought she was already acting a bit cautiously. There was a well-marked speed bump that had already gotten her attention, and she wasn’t going super-fast on the way into it. The problem was, the turn was even GNARLIER than anyone could have expected. Had it not have been for that slight brake-tap, she would have recovered from the wheel slide. Unfortunately, our default setting is to hit the brakes in such messes. And yeah, she would have won.

    Lizzie had a pretty good day too (despite having to get a wheel change).


    1. Krakatoa East of Java

      Guess I should have watched Steve’s clip first. All I;d seen up until now was the footage from the camera-moto that was folloiwng her. Yeah, she came into that turn WAY too hot. She was absolutely going to crash (wheel-slip or not).

      Also, remind me to never travel to Brazil. The heartless FUCKS that were right there didn’t even so much as check her pulse. Some of them were cops too. Unbelievable. Truly.

      1. Krakatoa East of Java

        I see a few “really” labored chest-heaves (and it takes some time for me to observe even these), and most certainly the possibility that the breathing will stop. The gap between breaths seems to be widening, and a responsible person would put the damn camera down, sit right there and monitor the victim’s situation. The course marshal spends time shooing him away without even so much as checking on the girl. And being that this part of the course was already a known hazard, why was there no medical staff standing-by right there? I’d have an EMT team on every big corner if this were my race.

  5. joriverdog

    I agree 110% on this Olympic RR being number 1….it had it all. Sagan might have been the winner…but Greg his second fiddle deserved it….and never quit! This what make Road Racing the most exciting sporting event, most demanding and consequential of all athletic endeavors….nothing comes close.
    Descending is a Devil….knowing just how much to risk…staying calm and relaxed, but very very focused it essential….it was an amazing race. It is too bad USA could not field a competitive team..only qualified 2….same as Iran…WTF? We need to develop climbers!…too many Crits…ce la vie

    1. GVA

      GVA the second fiddle who has out sprinted Sagan 2 X for a win? That one? What the fuck is wrong with you new people…. Fucking seriously.

  6. joriverdog

    I assumed the clip you had Steve was what was on TV…this shows she had a bad Line! She was way to inside before the apex…she should have been about where the moto was at the entry. She was out for over a minute…Never a good thing! This happened to me and it took me over a year to get back 100%. She was really really lucky she lived!

  7. numbnuts

    pavement must of been wet? I’ve biked most of the carribean islands plus Costa Rica three times (La Ruta ), the roads there can get very damp.

    Saw the ending of the women’s races, doesn’t pay to take the lead. A good wise racer will sit back and enjoy the show till the last 1/4 mile. Let others disperse their energy. Then let that ball of energy go at the very very end. To sit there alone pedaling like mad for kms on end is foolishness. The original leader ended up scrwing herself big time… Meanwhile, I think from what I could see, the one that sat in the back of the lead pack ended up taking it all. The importance of remaining patience….

    We had a local road rider in the men’s race (Mike Woods)… didn’t do too well, great hill climber though. We have the perfect hills around here for doing hill intervals (gatineau park).

    1. numbnuts

      on a side note – what would be cool to have is a multi-stage race in the carribean – St lucia, Tortola, dominica , and a few other islands…. great climbs, great views, great winding roads…

  8. Jeff D.

    I noticed nobody rushed over to her myself but then also noticed you could see her breathing, So maybe the right thing was not to touch her until qualified medical personnel got there.. It was definitely a ugly crash, but could have ended much worst

    1. Krakatoa East of Java

      I eventually saw evidence of her breathing, but it was quite a while after she wrecked it. A bit of “hey, is she breathing” should have been in order. But forget the dude with the camera. What about all of the course officials just standing around, doing nothing?

  9. robogo

    Best women’s race I’ve seen. Expected the usual women’s routine – bike parade followed by 1 or 2 strongest riders push the pace and tail off the field. It started going that way, but then van Vleuten actually attacks and makes the race. Maybe there is some hope for women’s cycling.

    Yes, van Vleuten was too hot and tight into the corner. I’d disagree that she taps the brakes, instead she’s hard on both when she realizes her speed error, and when the back breaks loose she instinctively lets off the back brake, which causes it to snap back when it gets grip and through her over the front. Just a classic but ugly high side. The descent was her winning attack and she’s trying to squeeze everything out of the lines, but probably should have started each blind exit turn wide once she dropped Abbott and given what they saw in the men’s race.

    Abbott does her best race possible. She did what she needed to do to get into position, she should have no regrets. You can tell when she hits the flat run in that her cadence is low, she’s not surging to the line, just trying to hang on. If it had been a men’s race, she might have medalled, as they would have attacked within sight of her and probably dropped one rider. But the 3 chasers (unknowingly?) do the optimum strategy and chase her down together, so Abbott is cracked when they catch her.

    Smaller teams and individuals going for the win, instead of large teams trying not to lose. Better entertainment product than the TTT stage races.

  10. Larry T

    THIS Olympic road race was interesting precisely BECAUSE of the challenging course. A course like the World’s when Cipollini won would not have lured the big Grand Tour stars to Rio. Going downhill is every bit as important as going up as this race proved! So far we don’t know how Nibali and Henao came to grief, but it’s clear that operator-error took out the likely gold-medalist in the women’s race, while playing it safe like Mara Abbott did ended in no medal.
    It’s a RACE after all – no risk, no reward. I hope that never changes.

    1. Touriste-Routier

      Yes, in the context of the descent, Abbott played it safe, but she ended up in the lead. I am sure she descended as fast as she was comfortable with, and possibly went beyond her comfort level…

      Risks come in many forms. Abbott’s risk for the win was playing the one card she had (dropping almost everyone on the climb) and trying to solo in to the win, when it is well known that her descending, time trialing, and sprinting abilities are not on par with those that were chasing her. She could have sat up and lost or given it all. She came up short, but it made for a great finish.

  11. jpete

    I’m not sure I if I were van Vleuten I would have been super eager to completely drop Abbott on the descent. Having seen the carnage from the day before, having a decent gap in the chasers, plus knowing I would have a better than average chance against her in a sprint. I would figure I would keep her until I was absolutely sure we came off the mountain with enough lead to maintain, or would wait for the sprint. When she started taking risks on the way down, I was worried this would happen to her. You’re not on your way to victory if you are going faster than your abilities or the course allows. My god, that was awful to watch live.

  12. SnowWatt

    Am I the only one who thinks Mara Abbott selfishly screwed Stevens and Guarnier. If Abbott had set a manageable pace on the climb. The other two Americans would’ve made the final selection. Stevens could have gone hard on the flat and Guarnier could’ve won a sprint.

    1. Touriste-Routier

      I was thinking that too while watching it, but it became clear that Guarnier and Stevens were not coming back, while Armistead and others were.

      I think they needed to try to crack the others. Would you want to face the 3 Dutch riders coming into the finish together and have Armistead riding in the wheels? Unfortunately Guarnier and Stevens cracked too, and Abbott ended up isolating herself, and played the only card the team had left. In the end, they were 1:14 back, with Vos, while Armistead’s group closed to 20 seconds off the winners.

      Thus my conclusion was if Abbott hadn’t gone so hard, things would have regrouped, for a crap shoot finish, and the US team would still probably have ended off the podium (since it didn’t look like Guarnier or Stevens had it at the end), with all the effort wasted.

    2. Dean

      haha its a game of cards and she played her hand. Not sure she signed a contract to do what was best for someone else and not herself. In the end she was maybe 5 seconds from Gold, which was far ahead if any other USA rider in the Women’s or Men’s race. Great for her to pull off that ride and if others could not be there, then that is bike racing. SnowWatt your thinking keeps yourself in a negative state of mind. Positive for Abbott is a great thing, not a selfish act against Stevens and Guarnier. Abbott was racing her bike, let her race as she sees fit because obviously your not racing for her. She did awesome and had the best finish resultof any USA racer in the RR. #letthemraceastheyseefit

  13. Mike

    This whole video is why I could never be a truly competitive racer. See somebody down? I don’t care what the hell stakes are, I’m going to try and help that person. Whole scene just sucks.
    But,overall I’m the kind of person who runs towards a crisis wanting to fix it peacefully not away from it trying to get away….

  14. Fausto

    Abbott played her cards, she is a climber and there to break things up or go on. She didn’t know the only one up the road would crash. Seems to me that for all of the pre race info about it being a climber’s course they under prepared for the cobbles, and wet road conditions. Tire pressure and equipment choice while scouting the course? Maybe the difference is trade team prep vs. national team prep. Helped a rider down in a similar position last year; would not let her move but at least was there to tell first responders if they were conscious, in shock, bleeding, and could hold a hand. Put the camera down and monitor the breathing at least.

  15. Gordo

    It was a great race, and unlike previous Olympics, trade team politics did not effect the outcome. Both the Italian and the Swede who got third and second ride for Abbots trade team. It was nice to see a race that was just like a simple race to see who hits the line first. No politics or shady deals deciding the outcome.

  16. Shano

    That video clip was horrifying. Having recently been KO’ed on the road it just sickened me seeing her seemingly lifeless little body just laying there, unattended, unprotected. Shameful for not having that corner better marshaled especially in light of Saturday’s crashes. Seeing as how all the Monday morning talk is about that horrific moment maybe the IOC got what they wanted, better ratings via shocking content.
    Here’s hoping she recovers to a successful comeback. Godspeed Annemiek

  17. thomas prehn

    What we did have this year were two VERY EXCITING Olympic Road Races that ended very unconventionally and with a great deal of suspense and drama.

    Riders knew what was at stake, made the calculations and took the risks.

    It is very unfortunate for the riders who crashed and I hope they recover quickly but I bet if given the chance , they would both do it all the same way again. And my hats off to whomever designed the course. There was just enough distance between the climb and the finish for more drama to develop.

  18. Choppy Warburton

    Re Mara Abbott

    She did a post race interview where she repeatedly expressed self doubt at winning the race. In my experience, psychology is incredibly important in achieving the highest level of performance. Positive psychology may have allowed her to time trial at 103% and made all of the difference over that last 200m. With negative thoughts in your mind (the kind Mara expressed in the interview) she may have felt like she was giving 100% but only putting out 97%.


    Additionally, had AvV descended a little more cautiously, Mara could have bridged to her and they would have split gold and silver between them with most likely a silver for Mara. Bad tactics for AvV to attack so hard when it’s clear she would have won the sprint or time trial to the end and she needed a partner to maintain the lead they worked so hard for on the climb.

    I was happy to see the dopers and cheaters do poorly. Lizzie and Ivan were non-factors.

    1. Choppy Warburton

      Of course, had AvV not crashed, her teammate wouldn’t have worked that hard in chase group 2 and it’s likely AvV’s lead would have been enough to ensure her win. But having the advantage of seeing riders as good as Nibali crash the day before, one should have entered the descent with a conservative frame of mind. The roads were clearly wetter during the women’s race.

    2. thomas prehn

      I have to agree with you… sadly about the psychology. A good road racer has to be tempered but when the chips fall and you have only one option…you have to be ALL IN.

  19. Aki

    I was watching the Women’s RR and at the top of the descent I saw Abbott get gapped off immediately. I was like “omg can’t people learn to corner better so they can descend?!” All that hard work for nothing… and it only got worse after van Vleuten was out of sight.

    Then van Vleuten crashed. I missed the coverage of it because I had to step away from the computer. But the fact that she crashed… I sort of back pedaled on the whole “omg can’t people learn to corner” thing.

    Then I saw the video of van Vleuten. Entered the turn almost on the inside curb! Absolutely nowhere to go once the turn tightened up. I was back to the “omg can’t people learn to corner” rage.

    Then I saw the second video of van Vleuten crashing, and someone commenting that the camera moto was basically on the right line. In other words van Vleuten needed to be about 10-12 feet to her left but there was a moto almost right there.

    That got me conflicted. I’ve never been in a race with a moto right next to me but I have descended many times with cars/trucks right next to me. In races I don’t know how aggressive I’d act, like if I had to move 10′ over to set up for a corner but I know there’s a motorcycle right there and it’s sort of raining just a bit…

    And of course I have no idea how sketchy it was out there in real life. I’m the biggest scardycat when it comes to wet cornering so I really can’t say much. And although I’m a moderately okay descender/cornerer I’ve seen guys do stuff that I would have bet were impossible (and I’d have lost the bet).

    In the end I was super disappointed for van Vleuten. I was then even more disappointed for Abbott. She could have saved a critical few seconds on the descent where it’s about technical skill, not training. Even if she’d just hung onto van Vleuten’s wheel for another half dozen corners it would have been much better for her because once she lost sight of van Vleuten she really slowed down.


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