The Absolute Highlights of Women’s Olympic Cycling

By Megan Flottorp

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games officially behind us, it is time to look back on some of the most stunning moments that unfolded over the last few weeks. Women gave us plenty of reasons to stay on the edge of our seats throughout the cycling events, including everything from new records being set and dreams fulfilled to dashed hopes and confusing finishes. Here are a few of the highlights that we’ll be talking about for years to come. 

Jennifer Valente overcomes a crash to take the gold medal in the final cycling event of the Games

Following a crash-defined opening round, Jennifer Valente of the United States regrouped to take home the gold medal in the final cycling event of the Tokyo Olympic Games – the women’s Omnium. You’d be forgiven if you found yourself holding your breath throughout most of the race, too.

Jennifer Valente at the Olympics
Valente reached out for gold. © Profimedia

The opening race saw nearly half the field come down in two dramatic crashes, and falls didn’t stop after that. The reigning world champion from Japan came down alongside Valente in the final points race. However, they bounced back quickly and Valente managed to maintain her medal position. “Olympic gold, still the sound of it, I can’t get over,” Valente said. “It’s hard to believe, it’ll sink in eventually, but it hasn’t quite yet.”

Laura Kenny makes history for Great Britain

Laura Kenny was the proud bearer of Team Great Britains’ flag for the Closing Ceremony, following her crowing as Team GB’s most successful female Olympian – thanks to an incredible gold medal-winning ride with Katie Archibald in the first-ever Olympic women’s Madison. The duo won the event that sees pairs of riders from 15 nations rack up points through sprints, covering 30 km in 120 laps of the velodrome.

Laura Kenny
Laura Kenny made history for Great Britain. © Profimedia

Kenny has also surpassed Dutchwoman Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel to become the most successful female cyclist in Olympic history. Hats off to her!

Three women BMX riders did NOT hold back

In another Olympic first – the women’s BMX freestyle – riders had two attempts to put up their best run. In the final, unlike the preliminaries, only the score from the best run would count for the medal. With the inaugural BMX freestyle gold medal on the line, the riders went full out – and crashes were dramatic and abundant. No trick was too big for these women to try out, and their brazenness paid off.

Great Britain’s Charlotte Worthington went for a backflip right at the start, following it with a backflip 360° attempt. Unfortunately, her first go ended in a crash just 15 seconds into the round. American Hannah Roberts, meanwhile, nailed her first run, successfully pulling off two backflips and a double tailwhip, which earned her a decisive 96.1, nearly ensuring her a gold medal.

In the second round, though, Worthington opted to make a second attempt at her original run and managed to capture the 360° backflip that has alluded her at first. She also threw in a front flip for good measure. With the world’s first full-circle backflip for women in competition, the fantastic performance was good for a massive 97.5 (and the accompanying gold medal).

A road race surprise made for some confusing (and awkward) moments

As we’ve detailed here, the women’s road race involved an element of surprise. So much surprise, in fact, that the other cyclists didn’t know the winner had already won when they crossed the finish line.

Austria’s Anna Kiesenhofer, who claimed gold in an upset, was part of an early breakaway. Unbeknownst to the riders in the peloton, she successfully opened a gap on that group, raced the final 40 km alone, and won the race by over a minute. The Netherlands’s Annemiek van Vleuten won silver but threw her hands up in celebration when she crossed the finish line, not realizing the top prize has already been claimed.

Anna Kiesenhofer
Anna Kiesenhofer took everyone by surprise. © Profimedia

Annemiek got her gold

After the upset at the road race event, though, it didn’t take long for the Dutch legend to claim the prize she had travelled to Tokyo for. At the time trial event a day later, Annemiek van Vleuten rode her way to the fastest time of the day in women’s racing, finishing the 22.1-km course in 30:30.49.

The race was indeed extra sweet for van Vleuten as she redeemed herself following the road-race debacle. The look on her face during the time trial revealed that she would do everything she could to get the gold, and she delivered a fantastic performance.

There’s a Swiss sweep of the mountain biking cross-country race

The women’s mountain bike race delivered a lot of hot muddy action and, ultimately, a definitive Swiss sweep of the podium. All riding for the same national team, Jolanda Neff, Sina Frei, and Linda Indergand took the gold, silver, and bronze, respectively.

Typhoon Nepartak dealt heavy rain on the previously dry course the night before the event, and the drastic shift in conditions lead to some last-minute changes, including a one-lap shortening of the race (to five from six, plus the start loop).

Jolanda Neff
Jolanda Neff of Switzerland in action during women’s cross-country race Tokyo 2020 Olympics. © Profimedia

French riders Loana LeComte and Pauline Ferrand-Prévot were among the favourites to win. Yet, the wet and super slick course set the stage for various twists and turns throughout the event. Despite all being technically skilled racers, LeComte and Ferrand-Prévot both fell victim to the conditions and cleared the way for Swiss domination. You have to go back to 1904 for the last clean sweep, so no doubt the Swiss team enjoyed a boisterous and well-earned celebration following their victory.

Plenty to celebrate

Of course, that’s just a handful of the incredible athletic prowess that was on display from the women who cycled in this year’s Olympic Games. All in all, it was a great series of events that spoke volumes to the undeniable talent of the women at the top of professional cycling. We still have a long way to go when it comes to reaching equality across this great sport but with the performances we saw at this year’s Olympics, we’re willing to bet that the support for women’s cycling is only going to keep garnering momentum. A huge congratulations to all participants who gave us so much to cheer for over the last three weeks!