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August 16/04 6:47 am - Olympic Women's Road Race: Story

Posted by Editoress on 08/16/04

Australia's Sara Carrigan won women's Olympic gold medal in an extremely aggressive race that was marred by two unfortunate incidences - a crash that took out defending champion Leontien van Moorsel (Netherlands) and Canada's Lyne Bessette; and extremely poor behaviour by silver medalist Judith Arndt, who "flicked the finger" to the world as she crossed the finish line, expressing her displeasure with the German cycling federation for leaving her close friend Petra Rossner off the squad. Sue Palmer-Komar was the top Canadian, finishing 11th.

The women started under cooler conditions than the men - low 30s - but it was very windy and the sky hinted at the possibility of rain, which worried everyone, given the already sketchy conditions from the slick road surface. However, as Lyne Bessette noted: "this is the Olympics, we are here to race rain or shine." Luckily, the rain held off, but the wind remained a factor in breakaway attempts.

The nine lap race started slowly, as the riders were nervous on the cobbled section by the Acropolis and in the switchbacks on the Lycabetous Hill climb. As they approached the climb on the first few laps the pace picked up as everyone tried to move to the front, but slowed down as they went over the top.

Palmer-Komar and Bessette stayed in the front through the early laps, but Manon Jutras seemed to be yo-yoing back and forth - at the front on the cobbles and sliding to the back by the start of climb.

"I was (just) trying to be patient.  I am not fast enough to fight my way (into position) on the climbs.  Later when Eneritz Iturriaga Mazaga (Spain) went, I went to the front of the peloton to go hard on the climb to try and create an opportunity, that was my role."

Iturriaga Mazaga attacked on the fourth lap, and this is when Jutras earned her keep - going to the front and pushing the pace as the gap reached 40 seconds to a lone chaser (Janildes Fernand Silva - Brazil) and 1:17 to the peloton as the riders began their fifth lap. Silva was caught quickly, and the pace was stretching the peloton out, with slower riders being shed constantly.

Arndt accelerated up the climb, gapping the field and bringing van Moorsel to the front to chase her down. Bessette moved to the first 8 positions also, with Palmer-Komar just behind. This one lap caused nearly half the field to drop off, although a number did rejoin after Iturriaga Mazaga was caught and the pace slowed slightly.

Arndt attempted to get away again with little under 50 kilometres remaining, but Jutras immediately brought her back. After Arndt's attack Sonia Huguet (France) jumped shortly before the main climb up Lycabetous Hill, a smart move. She was a definite threat, since she had won the extremely hard Fleche Wallone World Cup earlier in the spring. Huguet quickly took the gap up to nearly a minute, and a chase started which split the field as they brough Huguet back.

Arndt, van Moorsel and Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) were in the lead group, but others were bridging up, including Bessette and Palmer-Komar. As the riders started the seventh lap, the pace slowed slightly, and Bessette attacked.

However, Bessette was too much of a threat to be allowed, and a group formed to chase her down. Arndt, van Moorsel, Christine Thorburn (USA), Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) were all in the chase, with Palmer-Komar getting a free ride, as per the Canadian strategy.

"During the race Lyne (Bessette) and I discussed tactics and also with Eric (Van Den Eynde - national coach)." explained Sue.  We had (radio) instructions from Eric.  I think I was supposed to go (when Lyne went), but the radios were not that clear, so Lyne thought she was to go."

Bessette managed to take her lead up to 20 seconds, but was caught on the cobbles, setting up Palmer-Komar for the counter.

"When she (Lyne) was getting caught, Eric told me to counter.  So I made my way to the front and attacked."

Palmer-Komar wasn't as obvious a threat as Bessette, so there was a hesitation in the chase. The lead quickly went to 50 seconds, and then up to a minute and twenty seconds. Palmer-Komar was "helped" by two occurences - first, Arndt got a bag caught in her wheel, forcing her to stop and get assistance for a few seconds, depriving the chase of its most powerful member. Second, van Moorsel clipped the wheel of the rider in front of her as the chase went through the start-finish and went down hard, taking Barb Heeb (Switzerland) and Lyne Bessette with her. Christine Thorburn, who was right behind, remarkably managed to twist around the train wreck happening in front of her.

Manon Jutras was right there with Bessette when it happened: "It was just by the start-finish line.  Lyne was on Van Moorsel's wheel, and when she went down, there was no chance (of avoiding it)."

Bessette landed on her knees, hip and shoulder. Both she and Heeb got back into the race, but van Moorsel stayed on the ground, and was eventually taken off by medical staff (the latest word is that there was no serious injury, and she will be able to race the time trial and on the track).

Bessette then had to wait to have both her wheels changed before getting back in the race. The mechanical assistance took a long time, and Bessette decided to abandon shortly afterwards and seek medical attention. (Note: she suffered no serious injury, receiving scrapes to her knees and bruising on hip and shoulder).

Team manager Sean O'Donnell addressed the slow service, and the fact that the mechanic had to get wheels out of the trunk of the car to service Bessette: "We were sharing a car with Brazil and China, so the car had Eric driving, our mechanic Troy and the managers for Brazil and China, that is why the wheels were in the trunk. The IOC informed us during the manager's meeting, with no prior warning, that only the top nations in the latest UCI ranking would get individual cars, and we (Canada) are ranked 12th. So, we had to share a car, and we were well back in the caravan as well. I'm disappointed that people would criticize so much without having any idea of what the situation was."

While all this was going on, Palmer-Komar was out in front. Before the race she had said that her legs didn't feel 100%, but she was still putting in a strong effort, and it took over a lap for an elite group to catch her. When they did, shortly before the end of the cobbles, the lead consisted of Arndt, Oenone Wood (Australia), Cooke, Mirjam Melchers (Netherlands), Joane Somarriba (Spain) and Olga Slyusareva (Russia). Carrigan made a very impressive job of bridging up to the leaders, making 8 at the front, including two Australians.

Carrigan then attacked and got a gap as the rest hesitated. Meanwhile, Kristin Armstrong (USA) and Edita Pucinskaite (Lithuania) managed to bridge across also, while Arndt, not happy with the concept of being in a group with two strong Australians, jumped up to Carrigan. The German immediately went to the front, giving Carrigan a free ride.

"When the break started to close on me, I increased my pace, and then Judith came across.  Once Judith was with me, I did not have to work so hard. Since Oenone (Wood) was behind and she is an excellent sprinter, I could sit on.  Judith did most of the work, but I did some.  It was a perfect situation."

Cooke was trying to get something going, as was Melchers, but there was no organization, and every attempt had Wood glued to it. Palmer-Komar was dropped at this point on the final climb, and then the chase slowed after Pucinskaite crashed in a corner, involving both Cooke and Melchers.

The gap was 20 seconds between the front duo and the group chasing, which was down to Melchers, Cooke, Wood and Slyusareva. Armstrong and Somarriba were just behind, then Pucinskaite and Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (France) in tenth, who had overtaken Palmer-Komar.

At the front, Arndt was doing all the work, and it seemed like she would just drive straight for the line, never even giving consideration to Carrigan on her wheel. When Carrigan finally jumped, about 200 metres out, Arndt looked over her other shoulder and, by the time she realized the Australian had gone, it was too late and Carrigan had a good 20 metres on her and was able to coast across the line, arms in the air.

We then had the totally unprecedented and unexpected action of the silver medalist giving the "bird" as she crossed the finish line, in full view of television and photographers from around the world.

Wood led out the sprint for the bronze, but Slyusareva came around her in the final 25 metres to take the bronze medal.

Race Notes:

- Palmer-Komar was somewhat disappointed with Canada's results. "We wanted to be the ones being chased, rather than the ones chasing.  I think we gave it a really good shot and were a factor in the race.  It was just bad luck Lyne having a crash. I felt better once the race started than I thought I would, but still not my best day. Lyne was riding really well, and it could have been different if she had still been in the race. It could have been worse, but I wanted better.  I think we had a better team than the results showed."

- Arndt acted like a spoilt brat all through the awards ceremony, not smiling, not raising her arms, and not holding up her medal with the other medalists. When she got to the press conference, she slumped over in her seat with her chin in her hand, making it very obvious she was not happy. She also took the majority of the attention away from Carrigan when she spoke, steering every question adddressed to her back to the fact that her partner Rossner had been left of the team, and that she was using the situation as a forum to express her displeasure with the German federation.

"I caught up to Sara (Carrigan) and did a lot of work.  It would have been a different race if Petra (Rossner) had been here, the outcome would have been different.  She is the fastest sprinter in the world."

When confronted by officials over her display at the finish line, Arndt claimed that there was no disrespect to her opponent or the Olympics, and that her gesture had been "misinterpreted". Nevertheless, she was fined 200 Sf for unseemly behaviour.


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