Vos ensures pre-race favourite finally wins out in women's cycling road race
Sunday, 29 July 2012
July 29 - One cycling road race favourite succeeded where another had failed today as Marianne Vos took gold in The Mall a day after home hope Mark Cavendish had finished without a medal in the men's event.
But home aspirations were assuaged on a day of heavy rain as Lizzie Armitstead almost emulated the gold won four years ago in similar conditions by team-mate Nicole Cooke, finishing a wheel's distance behind the 25-year-old Dutch multiple world champion to earn the first medal of the London 2012 Games for Britain.
Vos (pictured top, in centre) arrived at these Games having won every major cycling title across a range of disciplines including road and track cycling and cyclo-cross, and with an Olympic track gold from the 2008 points race, but her hopes of earning a first medal in the Olympic road race disappeared in Beijing as she missed the crucial five-rider break which eventually saw Cooke – who finished 31st here – claimed what was to be the first of 47 medals earned by Britain in China.
On this occasion, however, the Dutch world number one ensured she was never out of the hunt as she broke away in the final quarter of the race in company with Armitstead, Shelley Olds of the United States – who later dropped out after a puncture – and Russia's Olga Zabelinskaya, who eventually finished with bronze after being jumped by her two companions as they set up their final, electrifying charge over the final 100 metres.
Vos and Armitstead were given the same time, 3 hours 35min 29sec, with the Russian two seconds behind and Germany's sprint specialist Ina Teutenberg leading home the chasing peleton 27 seconds behind the winner.
"Lizzie did a really good job on the break and did a really good sprint but I was so happy to win," said a tearful Vos after she had had the dust and grime of her hard ride wiped tenderly from her face by team officials.
"After Beijing this was what I wanted for four years and now it has happened it is incredible.
"It's all intuition in the final sprint.
"It's very hard, because at 500 metres to go you already see the finish line and you think 'I have to go!'
"But you have to wait.
"Eventually I still went early.
"I saw Lizzie come next to me but she didn't come through."
Armitstead, the 23-year-old from West Yorkshire, had finished with a grin after slashing through the standing water in pursuit of Vos, her bike frame rocking with the effort.
Somewhat dazed in the aftermath, she commented: "It's just really strange.
"I am a bit shocked.
"I am so glad I committed to that race.
"I am so happy.
"I should have just tried to jump Vos earlier, but I just went with it and am so happy it came off.
"Marianne Vos was the one to watch and I knew that before the race – I played my tactics and thankfully it came off."
Commenting on the crowds who once again lined the out and back route around Surrey – although at 140 kilometres the women's course was 110km shorter than the men's, and included two rather than nine climbs up Box Hill – Armitstead said: "It's the most special thing I have ever experienced.
"It was absolutely amazing.
"I didn't even feel my legs – it was just so special."
Once the American had dropped back the three remaining riders knew they were racing between themselves for podium places as they stretched their lead – which had been 21sec with 35km remaining – to 30sec with less than 19km remaining.
Shortly after this point, Britain's Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, who had finished exhausted, shirt undone and head bent over his handlebars the previous day after his vain effort to set up his "little brother" Cavendish for the Olympic gold the pair had missed together in the Beijing 2008 madison, tweeted: "COME ON LIZZIE!!!"
An elated Zabelinskaya, who had made an early break at 44km which was covered by the peleton, commented after a race where, as with the men's event, race radios were banned: "I didn't expect a medal, although I dreamt about it, but I didn't have any plans.
"There were no tactics, just improvisation.
"Marianne is a machine right now and the rest of us are not at her level."
Dave Brailsford, British Cycling's performance director, commented: "Lizzie rode the perfect race and, just in the end, she didn't quite have the legs to finish.
"She was so strong and it was a magic performance.
"We wanted to start off well yesterday in the men's race and it didn't work out, but we bounced back today which was just what we wanted.
"Lizzie took a risk and it paid off so credit to her.
"I don't think anyone can begrudge Vos winning.
"They did it in torrential rain and really tough circumstances so credit to all of them."
Cooke commented: "It feels great.
"We came in here with a serious chance and we did it.
"Lizzie did a fantastic ride – we were there backing her up but she didn't need it because she was superb."