RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Dutch road race gold medalist Anna van der Breggen said she had to snap back into race mode after seeing stricken team mate Annemiek van Vleuten crumpled by the roadside on Sunday.
Van der Breggen was part of a chasing pack pursuing Van Vleuten and American Mara Abbott when her compatriot, who seemed on course for victory, suffered a horrible high-speed crash that left her in hospital with concussion and back injuries.
The 26-year-old went on to catch Abbott 200 meters from the end of 137km Olympic race around Rio’s stunning coastline.
But for a while she was in shock before her racing instincts helped her strike out for a thrilling victory.
“It really shook me when I saw Annemiek crashed in the road,” Van der Breggen, who along with Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini closed a 40-second gap to Abbott, told reporters.
”I was pretty shocked. I saw her and she was on the edge (of the road). We needed some time to realize we have to chase now and keep our heads on the race because we couldn’t help her.
“I was struggling to think straight but then race modus was coming on again.”
Van der Breggen, who won the Fleche Wallonne race this year and was runner-up in last year’s world championships, gauged the final 20km to perfection and despite the adrenaline pumping she made sure she left something in her legs for a final sprint.
Although she admitted she thought Abbott was too far ahead.
”I thought we were not going to catch her,“ she said. ”Then we saw her. Then I thought it’s too close to the finish! But we just went as fast as possible and worked as a three.
”When I realized that we would catch her I said to myself ‘don’t work any more because you need to sprint also’.
“I was hoping they were still chasing. I stayed at the back and needed to gamble.”
The race came to life on the final climb, the Vista Chinesa, when Abbott and Van Vleuten took off, leaving Van der Breggen in a group desperately trying to stay in contention.
“The race kind of exploded,” she said.
She is the fourth Dutchwoman to win the Olympic road race since it came on to the program in 1984 and takes the women’s cycling crown from Marianne Vos who fell short of a record-equalling 10th gold medal in the Olympics and world championships.
“That Marianne was the one before is really good for the Dutch cycling,” she said. “How she was working for me today that was an amazing feeling and she’s an amazing rider.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Andrew Hay