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Kiesenhofer Q&A: The Olympic road race champion on how she won

How many of us knew Anna Kiesenhofer's name before the Olympics?

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The newly crowned women’s Olympic road race champion explains how she got one over on the favorites in Tokyo and what it means to her.

VeloNews: I guess before the Olympics you would have hoped and dreamed that you would come home with a medal, but perhaps you didn’t imagine that you would take the gold and particularly in this way.

Anna Kiesenhofer: No, not gold. I don’t know, I always want to win of course but I knew it wasn’t realistic. So, I didn’t make any plans of coming back with a medal. I didn’t even have the time to be too emotional. I was so busy just telling my story during interviews that I didn’t really have time for myself to actually think about the medal and what is behind it. I hope I find the time to really reflect for myself.

VN: What has it been like having people reach out to you and say what your win means to them?

AK: So many people wrote to me to say how inspiring they found it and how much it motivates them to just go out and ride their bikes and that it really motivated them to continue training next to my day job.

VN: Do you think it has inspired so many people because you’re an athlete who also has a normal job? What you’ve done is amazing but in the same way, people can kind of connect it with themselves.

AK: I think people can relate much more with my story than just like the professional athlete who was the favorite, anyway. People feel inspired because of that; because I achieved something unrealistic, and yet, I’m a normal person in the sense of having a normal job.

Anna Kiesenhofer rides solo at the Olympic Games
Anna Kiesenhofer rides solo at the Olympic Games (Photo: ANP Sport via Getty Images)

VN: What were your feelings going into the Olympic road race?

AK: I knew that luck would play a role. Because in a road race, I see myself as a climber and here the profile was a bit of a mix. So, there was this long climb, but it wasn’t really a climb because it was too flat. I was a bit worried about how the big teams would make the race. Would it be a hard tempo and people would just drop off the back? Or would we be cruising and then everything would be decided in the final laps on the speedway?

When I did the recon and saw the course in real life, I thought it would be best to get a breakaway, because you have two small climbs and descents. I thought if they let me go, I can get a gap. It was my one motivation. The days before the race, I thought, “You have to go for it, you’re strong physically and everything else would be a shame.” There would be this risk of sitting at the back of the bunch the whole time, and not being able to show all the hard work I had done before and that was my biggest fear. The only thing I really wanted was to just put the power down and show what I’m capable of, even if it meant going away and getting caught.

VN: We could see the race unfold on the television, but how much of what was happening behind you were you aware of and did it help not really knowing who was chasing you?

VN: I didn’t really care so much about who was behind me, I was really just going full gas. Maybe it would have worried me a bit to know that Annemiek van Vleuten was chasing me. Actually, I thought it was the girls from my breakaway who were on this road that were the first line on the board. I thought the next group was the girls chasing me from my breakaway. I don’t think it played a big role, like knowing who was behind, but the time gaps helped. Like, I wish they had them a bit more often. Because sometimes you’re riding for a few minutes, and you start worrying. What’s happening behind? Are they closing in very fast? But yeah, it was OK. Since I was going full gas there was no other way. I wasn’t holding anything back.

OYAMA, JAPAN - JULY 25: (L-R) Silver medalist Annemiek van Vleuten of Team Netherlands, gold medalist Anna Kiesenhofer of Team Austria, and bronze medalist Elisa Longo Borghini of Team Italy, pose on the podium during the medal ceremony during the Women's road race 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)
Anna Kiesenhofer (center) was all smiles following her stunning Olympic road race upset. (: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

VN: When did you find out about the confusion behind you?

AK: I don’t even know, I think the day after I was talking to people or something, or I saw a photo where she was raising her hands when she crossed the finish line. I was just so busy with interviews and stuff like that. I was so tired I wasn’t even interested in anything. The race was hard, but the media marathon afterward wasn’t easy.

VN: You achieved this as a part-time cyclist, how did that feel?

AK: It really feels like the victory that is mine. It’s not like there was a team director who told me that I have to do this or that or all the other girls have a team sacrificing themselves for me. It was perhaps even more special to really take things into my own hands.