Olympic Games

The incredible triumph of Anna Kiesenhofer, the Austrian from Arenys de Mar who earned her doctorate at the UPC

She has won the gold medal in the road cycling event despite not being a professional cyclist

3 min
Austria's Anna Kiesenhofer wins gold medal in cycling

BarcelonaOn 21 December 2016, Anna Kiesenhofer defended her doctoral thesis for her PhD in applied mathematics at the UPC. The Austrian had already been in Catalonia for a few years, where it was common to see her riding her bike on the roads of Empordà and Maresme. Five years later, Kiesenhofer has won the gold medal in road cycling, surprising everyone. Especially the Dutch Annemiek Van Vleuten, one of the favourites. The Movistar rider had led the attacks of the big group to neutralise some riders who had been escaping all day. One after the other, they have caught up with them. And as Van Vleuten crossed the finish line, she celebrated the gold medal, not realising that she actually had a silver medal. In a corner of the asphalt of the circuit where the race ended was Kiesenhofer, with no air in her lungs, recovering. She was the champion.

At the age of 30, Kiesenhofer has written one of the most beautiful pages in the history of Olympic cycling. She won the medal ahead of Van Vleuten and the Italian Elisa Longo, although she is not even a professional. The Viennese has always competed. First in triathlon and biathlon, sports that she gave up partly because of injuries. And then cycling, of course. In 2016, just the year she was preparing her doctorate at the UPC, she won the Spanish Cycling Cup competing with the Girona team Frigoríficos Costa Brava-Naturalium. Her passion for cycling led her to cross Spain up and down, spending weeks with the Catalan team in Cerdanya, knowing every corner of a land that she loved because "the landscapes are beautiful. People think of the peaks of Austria, but I'm from a flat area near Vienna. And I love having the sea here", she explained at the time. As cyclist Marta Vilajosana remembers, "she cycled with the Catalan national team during that time in some competitions".

And in fact, her good performances allowed her to compete briefly as a professional with the Lotto team, but she would leave because it affected her health too much. During those years she had a blog where she explained her dreams as a cyclist while studying, but she quickly changed the tone of the texts, narrating the health problems and the pressure she felt. Kiesenhofer would explain that she suffered from amenorrhea, she no longer got her period, and bone problems.

In 2017, she decided to step away from this lifestyle, returning home to continue her research. Since then, she has spent time at Cambridge and Swiss universities such as Lausanne, where she is now doing her postdoctoral research. Always without stopping to ride, but with a different mentality. "In cycling many times the obsession to win makes you forget how beautiful life can be" said in 2018 a woman who constantly returns to Catalonia, especially to Arenys de Mar. In her apps to control the routes she does, in fact, she presents herself as a cyclist from Arenys.

The last few years, freed from pressure and competition in Austria, she has been proclaimed national champion both in time trial and road, earning the right to be in an Olympic Games where many of her rivals did not know her. She was just another face in the big group. Before leaving Tokyo for Mount Fuji, the group saw a group of brave cyclists attacking. Kiesenhofer joined in, no doubt thinking of enjoying the experience. And as no one was favourite, they let them do it. And when the title contenders reacted, they had a hard time catching them. All of them, except Kiesenhofer. "We didn't know her, we didn't know how she rode. For a moment we thought we would win the gold but she was ahead"; complained Dutch rider Van der Breggen. In the age of GPS and data that Kiesenhofer dominates so much, the Austrian has managed to disappear for a few moments. To fade away. And when her rivals saw her again, she was already on the ground of the circuit, trying to catch her breath to celebrate a medal that proves that even in cycling, life can be beautiful sometimes.