Posted by Editoress on 08/1/12
The road portion of cycling at the Olympics concluded today with the women's and men's individual time trials, starting and finishing at Hampton Court Palace, southwest of London. Kristin Armstrong (USA) successfully defended her Olympic title, while Bradley Wiggins gave Great Britain their second gold medal of the Games. Clara Hughes, riding in her sixth and final Olympics, was the top Canadian performer of the day, finishing fifth in the women. Denise Ramsden was 19th, and Ryder Hesjedal, Canada's only man in the road events, a disappointing 28th.
Grey skies were threatening rain in the morning but, except for a short sprinkle before the start of the women's 29 kilometre race, the day remained dry. The sun came out and it got quite hot for the end of the women's race and most of the men's 44 kilometre race.
Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia), the winner of the bronze medal in the women's road race showed that her medal was not a fluke by setting the early fast time, a time that held up until the final two riders finished, giving the Russian her second bronze medal.
Hughes had a strong start, setting what turned out to be the third fastest time at the first split (9.1 kilometres), but then could not sustain the pace, falling back to fifth, 54.14 seconds behind Armstrong.
"I had everything I needed, the best bike, and all the support from my federation. That was the best I had. There's nothing I could have done more, I just wasn't good enough. This was my big goal to prepare for, and I prepared better than I ever had for this and the best I could go was fifth place. Do I have sense of disappointment that I got to represent my country at the Olympics in two different events and at my sixth Olympics? Absolutely not It's a gift - an honour."
"It was the best I had. I do not have any excuses. That was the best I had in my heart, my legs, my head. I am disappointed, but when I look at my result, it was everything. There were four people better than me. I was focused on my effort and riding the course. It felt good, but it was a time trial, and I felt like hell. It was 38 minutes of suffering. In a sense of what my effort was, I suffered, so that means it was a good race. I knew in the last week, this was the last chance I would have to race the Olympics. I feel proud. Some people might be disappointed, but I was inspired by the potential. I gave everything I had, I just wasn't good enough."
[Note: We had a lengthy interview with Clara, and will be posting that tomorrow, plus comments from Denise Ramsden and Ryder Hesjedal]
Judith Arndt (Germany), a former gold medalist, started a little slower, but picked up her pace in the latter half of the race to move into third by the second split (20.4 kilometres) and then to second by the finish.
Armstrong, despite having retired after her 2008 gold medal, returned in the last 18 months to defend the title. The American was third fastest after Split 1, slowed slightly in the middle part of the race, but then picked up her pace again in the final 8.4 kilometre section, to finish over 15 seconds in front of Arndt.
Arndt, Armstrong, Zabelinskaya
“It felt good,” Armstrong said. “It was an amazing experience. It's very similar to Beijing. Most of the time, I'm out on the time trial trying to focus, trying to struggle, trying to keep my power up. Today, there are very few moments on the course I remember. All of a sudden I'm like, 'Wow, I'm through the climbs. Wow, I'm here already. Wow, I have to drive it.’ I knew if I let off my power one time, the finish goes from first to fourth in an instant.”
Wiggins was definitely one of the favourites for the men's race, but the question mark was how well was defending champion Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) riding? Cancellara has generally dominated time trialling for the past five years, but he has had injuries this season, including a crash in the road race on Saturday. It became clear by the halfway mark that Cancellara would not be in contention, as he fell out of the top-three at the second split (18.4 kilometres), eventually finishing seventh and collapsing on the ground after his ride, holding his side.
Michael Rogers (Australia) was the first to record a sub-53 minute time, with nine riders to follow him. However, the writing was already on the wall with splits coming in from the remaining riders, and Rogers would eventually finish sixth. Wiggins' team mate Chris Froome, second to Wiggins in the Tour ten days earlier, took a stunning minute-plus from Rogers to take the lead, and held it until world champion Tony Martin (Germany) came in 26 seconds faster. However, Martin know that his time wouldn't hold, because Wiggins had demolished it at every time check after the first one (7.3 kilometres), to finish 42 seconds ahead, the only rider to go below 51 minutes.
"To win an Olympic gold in your home city," said Wiggins. "I cannot put it into words. I wouldn't do it justice. It was really incredible. When you win in the velodrome, there are three or four thousand people cheering. Here, around the streets of London, the noise is just amazing. I don't think anything will top that. I've just won the Tour de France. It's just been a phenomenal season."
Martin, Wiggins, Froome
The British rider has now become the only rider to have won both the Tour and Olympic gold in the same year. He has also become the only British athlete to have won seven Olympic medals.
Taylor Phinney (USA) had a bittersweet day, finishing fourth ... the same as in the road race. The result is certainly an improvement on the 15th place he took at last year's Worlds, he pointed out.
Canada's Hesjedal was never in contention, in 25th after the first split and gradually falling further behind to end up 28th out of 37 starters.