American Mara Abbott looked to have made the decisive move on the run into the finish but she was caught and passed just metres before the finishing line by van der Breggen, Sweden’s Emma Johansson and Elisa Longo Borghini of Italy, who formed the rest of the podium.
But the mood at the end was a sombre one, as riders and spectators awaited news of one-time race leader Annemiek Van Vleuten, who was the victim of a sickening crash on the descent from the final climb.
The Dutchwoman had distanced herself at the head of the race, but found herself going head first over the handle bars into a concrete ditch at the side of the road.
Latest reports from the Dutch cycling federation say van Vleuten was taken to hospital in a conscious condition to undergo further tests.
Armitstead’s preparation for the race had been far from ideal, as the Yorkshire rider arrived in Rio with a cloud over head after three successive missed drugs test earlier on in the year.
Team GB’s best hope was left behind on the original climb but did her best to hold on to the lead group before van Vleuten’s escape.
On the run along the Copacabana seafront, Armitstead headed a chase group but was unable to catch leading four riders and finished fifth.
Defending champion from London Marianne Vos finished ninth, while fellow Brits Nikki Harris and Emma Pooley both failed to complete the 137km route, which took in the same cobbled sections and steep mountain ascents as the men’s race on Saturday.
But the events may unfortunately be remembered for the injuries they caused rather than winners they crowned, with many commenting some areas of the course were far too dangerous for a professional road race, with poor road surfaces and insufficient safety measures.
In addition to van Vleuten’s horror crash today, Richie Porte, Sergio Henao and Vincenzo Nibali all suffered breakages in the men’s race on Saturday, while Team GB’s Geraint Thomas also hit the deck before managing to finish just outside the top ten.
Road Cycling returns to the Olympic calendar on Wednesday, when both men and women will race against the clock in the individual time trial events.
1. Anna van der Breggen (Holland) 3hours51minutes27seconds
2. Emma Johansson (Sweden) +same time
3. Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) +same time
4. Mara Abbott (USA) + 04s
5. Lizzie Armitstead (GB) +20s
6. Katarzyna Niewiadoma (Poland) +20s
7. Flavia Oliveira (Brazil) +20s
8. Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) +20s
9. Marianna Vos (Holland) +1m14s
10. Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa) +1m14s
DNF Nikki Harris
DNF Emma Pooley
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