Most of us had our hands close to our mouths as we watched Mara Abbott ride away from the break group on the Vista Chinesa climb of the Rio Road Race course, to carefully descend and stay ahead of the chasers until the final 500 metres.
The USA athlete was clearly emptying every ounce of strength into her pedals as she repeatedly climbed out of the saddle on the flat section leading to the finish, in pursuit of Gold.
.@cosunshinemka out the saddle on the flat... You know it's hurting!
— Total Womens Cycling (@TtlWomenCycling) August 7, 2016
It wasn't enough, and Abbott was pipped by three chasers: Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands, Rabo Liv), Emma Johansson (Sweden, Wiggle High5) and Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy, Wiggle High5). A Wiggle High5 rider herself when competing under trade team colours, despite not managing a podium spot, the captured the hearts of many in her struggle.
Here are a few insights we thought we'd share about this incredible athlete...
- She's a recovering anorexic. Abbott left cycling in 2011, having turned professional in 2007. She was suffering from anorexia, and still refuses to sign photos from that period in her life. Abbott still follows a strict diet, and we did notice some critics making comments on Twitter during the race suggesting she was too light. Say what they like, Abbott has gained control over a disorder that many struggle with, and for that we can only admire her inner strength. There's more about her incredible fight in this very popular Guardian feature by Helen Pidd.
- Abbott won the Giro Rosa in 2010 and and 2013. She came pretty close in 2016, too...
- She's known for her climbing. And less so for her descending. You'll have noticed commentators during the race discussing Abbott's descending skills, and the effect they could have, during the Rio Road race. In the 2016 Giro, Abbott moved into pink after building up a tremendous lead over the climb on stage five. The climb was followed by a flat section and a descent, on which Abbott crashed. She still maintained her lead, winning the stage, but it was her descending that decreased the time gap she'd worked so hard to create.
- Abbott was USA National Road Race Champion in 2007 and 2010. She only turned pro in 2007, too! This said, she proved she was a talent to watch by taking third in the U23 National Road Race in 2005.
- Our-almost-Olympic champ was chased down by 2 of her trade team mates at Rio. But of course, this is a race where riders have to focus on their country and not their trade team. Abbott signed with Wiggle High5 in 2015. She keeps a blog on the team site, and you can read up on her antics here.
- In her early life, she was a competitive swimmer. Cycling took over when she went to college.
- Abbott is into her yoga. She even used to teach it. See, the flexibility in strength gained off the bike IS great for a cyclist.
- Abbott would like to be an investigative environmental journalist after her retirement. Abbott has completed an internship at her local paper - and most journalists will tell you that's exactly the right way to cut your teeth!
- She's worked on a farm to fuel her racing over winter. Abbott has seen women's cycling grow over time - wages are gradually getting better, as are race winning prize funds. In the past, she's done some hard graft to raise funds to allow her to race.
- You can find Abbott on twitter under the handle @ - her bio reads: "My comparative advantage lies in kicking ass." True that! If only she'd kicked ass for just another 500 metres...