By Nicole Chrzanowski | Aug. 07, 2016, 3:37 p.m. (ET)

Mara Abbott riding for team Wiggle High5 Pro Cycling leads a breakaway in stage three of the Amgen Breakaway from Heart Disease on May 21, 2016 in Santa Rosa, Calif.


RIO DE JANEIRO -- Led by first-time Olympian Mara Abbott, the U.S. Women’s Road Cycling team placed three athletes in the top 12 Sunday at Fort Copacabana. The team combined for the best American team performance since a 1-2 finish in 1984.

“I didn’t believe I was going to be the one to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games,” said Abbott, who was passed in the final-meters sprint by the three medalists. “I saw the 300-meters-to-go sign and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, I could actually win this.’ Then I looked under my shoulder and they were right there and they passed me.” 

Abbott, a Boulder, Colorado, native, broke away from the field during the final 15 kilometers of the 136K race along with the Netherlands’ Annemiek van Vleuten. After van Vleuten crashed, Abbott navigated a technical descent down to Copacabana beach. She rode solo at the front of the field along the beach but was caught by the threesome in the final 250 meters, resulting in a sprint to the finish line.

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Netherland’s Anna van der Breggen finished first in 3:51:27, followed by Sweden’s Emma Johansson and Italy’s Elisa Longo Borghini.

Abbott came across the line in 3:51:31 in fourth, the best result for an American woman since Connie Carpenter and Rebecca Twigg finished one-two at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. 

“Every bike race is a learning experience,” Abbott said. “That’s part of what gets you to the Olympic Games -- a layering of lessons and you use them each time you get into a race. Hopefully each one brings you success in the future.”

Teammates Megan Guarnier (3:51:41) and Evelyn Stevens (3:51:43) finished 11th and 12th. Kristin Armstrong, a four-time Olympian, dropped out of the race with 25 kilometers to go after pulling the team into a top position. 

“It was plan A for me to do the work for my teammates,” Armstrong said. “I wanted to get our three riders to the base of the climb. I believe in them and think they are the best climbers in the world. I gave it everything today and it was pretty satisfying.”

Armstrong is the two-time defending Olympic champion in the women’s time trial and will look to defend her gold medal when she returns to the road Wednesday (Aug. 10) at Fort Copacabana.

Nicole Chrzanowski is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.