The United States hasn’t won a gold medal in women’s Olympic cycling since 1984, and that drought continued in heartbreaking fashion in Sunday’s road race medal event.

American Mara Abbott was in prime position to win a gold medal on the final leg of the race, but she couldn’t hold off a charging trio behind her, which passed her in the final 150 meters, leaving Abbott in fourth place at the finish line. Anna van der Breggen of the Netherlands took home the gold after rallying blitzing the field in the final kilometer, while Sweden’s Emma Johansson and Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini finished with the silver and bronze, respectively.

“The ironic part is . . . you’re in that situation, and you don’t actually believe you can win,” Abbott told a reporter on NBC’s broadcast. “I didn’t believe it until I passed 200 meters to go, then I thought, ‘Oh my God’, this is going to happen — and then they passed me. So, I guess that’s what they say about counting your chickens before they hatch. I rode that race to the absolute best of my ability, and I didn’t leave anything out there.”

Abbott, a Boulder, Colo., native, was all alone as she crossed the finish line in fourth, looking exhausted after a grueling race that took a scary turn with about 10 kilometers left. Abbott had led for much of the late stages of the race, but at one point was overtaken by Dutch cyclist Annemiek van Vleuten, who shortly after taking the lead flipped her bike and suffered a horrific crash on a slippery descent. Abbott then regained the lead and led heading into the final two kilometers before the three riders in her wake made their late push together. That left the Twittersphere crushed for Abbott, the 30-year-old who had entered these Games as an inspiring force for the Americans for her battle against anorexia.

“My inclination as an athlete is always going to be to say, I didn’t win, so that’s not good enough.’ But cycling is a team sport, so when I look at what everyone did . . . I’m really honored to be a part of this, and they’re all sitting there telling me that it was a success, so I have to trust them.”

That the United States did not medal at all was a stunning conclusion given the expectations that had been placed on the team. Megan Guarnier, the world’s top-ranked cyclist and a favorite to win the gold medal Sunday, finished 11th. Her teammate, Evelyn Stevens, another potential medalist, finished 12th.
The United States hasn’t won a gold medal in the women’s road race since Connie Carpenter did it in Los Angeles in 1984.