Just three days after scoring a silver medal in the Olympic women’s road race, Annemiek van Vleuten of the Netherlands rode into the gold medal position in the women’s individual time trial.
Defending world time trial champion Anna van der Breggen, also of Team NL, had a strong performance against the clock and ultimately finished in third place, 1:02 behind her winning teammate. The Swiss women continued to show their cycling strength, with Marlen Reusser finishing in second place, some 56 seconds adrift.
Podium hopes for the performance of American Chloé Dygert were not realized, but the young rider who suffered a knee injury in a horrific crash at the 2020 world road championships was able to ride into seventh place at 2:16. Two-time world champion against the clock Amber Neben, 43, of Team USA, finished in fifth place, 1:13 behind the winner.
Here’s what the stars said after the Olympic women’s individual time trial:
Annemiek van Vleuten (Netherlands): 1st
Annemiek van Vlueten rode a “monkey off her back” in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Van Vluten was setting up to win the road race five years ago in Rio, when she crashed and fractured vertebrae in the final quarter of the race.
In the Tokyo Olympic road race three days prior to the time trial, the Dutchwoman came across the line in second place, seemingly not knowing there was another woman up the road from her.
In the time trial, she demonstrated that she still has the legs and the skills to win on the world’s biggest stage, distancing herself from the entire field, including her teammate who is the defending world champion in the race against the clock.
“With my whole story, which started in Rio, more for the people around me that really believed in me, this is really a gold that shines extra bright because it started in 2016,” said van Vleuten. “In the national championships in June, I didn’t race too much, but I didn’t have a really good feeling. I knew that after I went to a training camp and I had a really good time there. For the road race, it was the first race situation that I felt awesome good and everyone around me was talking about the miscommunication and the other stuff and nobody was talking about my performance in the road race.”
Isolating herself from criticism and negativity directed at her via social media, the 38-year-old blocked out bad vibes, focused on the task at hand, and earned what may be the most prestigious victory in her career.
“I closed myself from social media, and I didn’t check it. I knew I was in really good shape, so it gave me extra confidence for today,” said van Vleuten. “Every time I started thinking about the result, I stopped my thoughts because I was just thinking about my task of today and I didn’t want to think about afterwards.”
Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands): 3rd, at 1:02
As the defending world champion in the individual time trial, and having scored a bronze medal five years earlier at the Rio Olympics in the same event, Anna van der Breggen had a little pressure — and a lot of experience — behind her.
While she had a very strong performance, she was behind her teammate van Vleuten at every time check, still blitzing the course faster than all but two other women in the 25 strong field.
“Today’s time trial was not the best. I was looking for gold, but at the moment, I’m happy with the medal and with the career I had,” said van der Breggen. “I won almost everything and this is really a nice way to say goodbye to everything.”
Van der Breggen has already announced her retirement from racing — having won almost everything possible in the sport — at the conclusion of this season, but she is not planning on leaving cycling. She has already committed to acting as a director sportif for the WorldTeam SD Worx.
“Holiday [is next]. We didn’t plan anything. We’ll go home and take some time to recover and to enjoy, because it was a really busy period. It’s nice to have some time to look back on my career,” van der Breggen said. “I’ll finish this season. I haven’t planned exactly which races [I’ll ride]. I’m gonna take some time off, relax, and then, I think it depends on the motivation and on the feeling which raises I will do.”
Marlen Reusser (Switzerland): 2nd at :56
Marlen Reusser is no stranger to the podium in time trial events at the top level of cycling — she earned a silver medal at the 2020 UCI world road cycling championships time trial behind Anna van der Breggen, and she was the 2019 European time trial champion.
Professing that she still needs to build confidence on the time trial bike when racing in technical parcours, Reusser had hoped for rain in the time trial, which could potentially slow the field through the winding and twisty turns on the Fuji International Speedway where the race started and finished.
“I’m afraid of some turns and downhill stretches,” confessed Reusser. “I was glad that it was raining [earlier in the week], and I was hoping that it would be raining today. When it’s raining everybody is at the same level technically.”
Amber Neben (United Stages): 5th, at 1:13
Amber Neben rolled through the finish line in a respectable fifth place in her third appearance at an Olympic Games. And at 46 years of age, Neben’s performance in the race against the clock was her best.
Neben, a skilled and experienced time trialist who is familiar with the no-radio rules at the world championships, said without on-course updates she gave all she had, and hoped her time was good enough for a top placing.
“I wasn’t wearing a radio, so I didn’t know where I was. I was honestly just riding as hard as I could and leaving it out there. I just wanted to make sure I finished, and I didn’t have anything that I regretted and that I didn’t have anything that I wish I would have done differently,” Neben said. “I was just putting it all out there. I went hard to the top. I knew that was a big check, and then I knew I was going to have to hang on a little bit on the downhill, then hit it again hard on the track. That was my strategy, and I did what I could today.”
Commenting on not making a podium in what is likely her last Olympic appearance, Neben expressed some disappointment, but no regrets with her race execution.
“I’m a little bit disappointed. I rode hard. I left it all out there. I was really hoping to medal today. It’s hard when you’re close but not quite there. No regrets. No complaints about my effort. It was good for today,” she said.