Marianne Vos sprints to her Olympic destiny in the London rain
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Marianne Vos sprints to her Olympic destiny in the London rain

by Ben Atkins at 12:31 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Race Reports and Results, Olympics
World number one dashes home nations hopes on the Mall as Lizzie Armitstead takes silver

Marianne Vos Marianne Vos (Netherlands) has gone some way to exorcising the spectre of five successive World championship silver medals, with victory in the Olympic road race, on the Mall in London. The World number one was the class of a very select group of three riders, which had escaped the peloton on the second of two laps of the hilly Box HIll circuit, outsprinting Great Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead and Russia’s Olga Zabelinskaya into second and third as heavy rain fell on the women’s race.

“I waited for this for such a long time,” said Vos afterwards, “and the preparation was not completely flawless either [she broke her collarbone in the end of May -ed] and if you end up finishing in first place anyway, it’s obviously great. It is unbelievable.

“What I am feeling right now is indescribable.

“Ellen [van Dijk], Loes [Gunnewijk] and Annemiek [van Vleuten] did a great job, but it seemed very hard to break away with a small group,” Vos explained. “There was a lot of wind at Box Hill, and that made it difficult to break away. After Box Hill, it went upwards for a little bit, and there it ended up working.”

The trio had originally been in the company of the United States’ Shelley Olds, but the 31-year-old sprinter punctured as the breakaway headed back towards London with the peloton on their heels. The other three continued without her, opening up a lead of more than 40 seconds over the chase and, with each one sure of a medal if they should remain clear, worked well together until they reached the finishing straight.

“We were lucky Shelly Olds ended up with a flat tyre, and that suddenly each one of us in the breakaway group was riding for a medal,” said Vos. “Everyone wants to take a piece like that home, so everyone was really racing. Especially Armitstead was making an effort, and I gave it all as well.”

Zabelinskaya led onto the Mall, with Vos on her wheel and Armitstead in third, but the Dutchwoman opened up her sprint with 200 metres to go and, once she was up to speed, there was no way that Armitstead would be able to come past.

“I knew Armitstead isn’t the slowest one, but all three of us made a tremendous effort,” Vos said. “I still saw her getting by my side, but I was quick to realise I would make it.


Germany’s Ina Teutenberg took the bunch sprint for fourth place, ahead of Italian World champion Giorgia Bronzini, Swedish champion Emma Johansson, and Olds, some 27 seconds later.

Less climbing than for the men, but much, much more British weather

The women’s road race course was identical to that tackled by the men the previous day, but for the fact that the women would take in just two laps of the 15.5km circuit, based on the climb of Box Hill, to the men’s nine. With fewer chances to force a selection, the likelihood of a sprint finish was far higher for the women, but there would be plenty of riders keen to prevent this.

Unlike the men’s road race, which had been ridden in virtually unbroken sunshine the previous day, much of the women’s race - just as it had been in Beijing four years before - was to be contested under heavy rain.

The first action came in the early kilometres, as Brazil’s Janildes Fernandes Silva attacked as the peloton was still passing through West London. The 31-year-old only managed to get 20 seconds clear of the front of the race however, and was swept up on the rolling drags of Richmond Park.

As Canadian Clara Hughes, the United States’ Kristin Armstrong, Germany’s Charlotte Becker and the Netherlands Ellen van Dijk were among those to control the front of the peloton, there were no further attacks for several kilometres. After around 35km however, van Dijk was the first to make a move.

The Dutchwoman wasn’t able to get too far but, as she was pulled in, compatriot Loes Gunnewijk countered. She too was quickly pulled back, but the two attacks set out the orange team’s intentions early on.

As the race hit the narrower roads around the Surrey countryside, the peloton began to encounter large puddles and areas of standing water. This caused a number of punctures among the riders, with Bronzini one of those affected. The World champion’s wheel change came at a time when the Australian team was beginning to mix things up at the front, and it took some time - including several minutes behind the shelter of her team car - for Bronzini to make it back up to the peloton.

Finally, Beijing silver medallist Tatiana Guderzo dropped back to pace her teammate for the final few metres, and back up to the front of the bunch.

After a crash, which brought down a number of riders - including Fernandes Silva, who ended up in a ditch at the side of the road - van Dijk attacked again. The Dutchwoman was joined by Great Britain’s Emma Pooley, and Italy’s Noemi Cantele, but they were quickly pulled back. As soon as they were caught, Gunnewijk went again, but she too was quickly recaptured.

Box Hill arrives and the cream rises to the top

As the USA led onto a small climb shortly before the Box Hill circuit, Vos made her first move of the race. The race favourite was followed immediately by Olds, but the front of the peloton was not far behind her, and - despite the pace shelling out a number of riders from the back - it was all together as it hit the start of the first of the two circuits.

Van Dijk attacked yet again as the Zig Zag climb began, but she wasn’t able to get away and was replaced at the head of the race by Pooley. The United States took over near the top however, with Evie Stevens leading over, with her high pace thinning the peloton still further.

Germany’s Judith Arndt attacked on the false flat that followed, and was joined by Vos, then Pooley tried again on the opposite side. Gunnewijk came down on a wet corner and, as the race came back together again, there was another crash that brought down Americans Stevens and Kristin Armstrong, and Finland’s Pia Sundstedt.

Van Dijk made another move as the race approached Box Hill for the second and final time; Pooley led the peloton back up to the Dutchwoman but, as the climb began, Vos put in the biggest attack so far. She was joined by Armitstead, and the two were just ahead of Belarus’ Alena Amialiusik as they crossed the top of the hill, but the much-reduced peloton reeled them in shortly after the summit.

On the back of the circuit though, Zabelinskaya put in a trademark attack and managed to open up a gap. Armitstead and Olds managed to fight their way across to the Russian, and were followed by Vos, and, as the riders’ respective teams began to disrupt the peloton behind them, they began to pull away.

With 40km to go the foursome had opened up 20 seconds on the peloton; the chase was led by Germany and Italy, who had both missed the move, were working hard to close it down. Both Pooley and the Netherlands’ Annemiek van Vleuten were sitting behind the front wheels of the peloton though, and preventing any cohesive chase.

Four becomes three and the medals are decided

Disaster soon struck for Olds however as, into the final 30km, she punctured and - with the gap still just less than 30 seconds - was forced to let the peloton pass her by before she could replace her wheel.

As the rain began to fall harder on the race, the remaining trio continued to work well together and, with their teammates spoiling things behind them, were gradually eking out more and more seconds.

Into the final ten kilometres the lead was up to 45 seconds and, despite the United States joining the chase behind, the three leaders seemed assured of deciding the medals between them. Perhaps to confirm this, riders began to attack from the peloton to try to secure fourth place, with Belgium’s Liesbet De Vocht among the first to go.

The trio’s lead was beginning to fall a little as they passed through Knightsbridge on the way to the final kilometres, perhaps because of a puncture suffered by arch-spoiler Pooley, but it was still 30 seconds as Zabelinskaya led into the final kilometre.

The Russian continued to lead on Constitution Hill, and onto the Mall, with Vos in second wheel, and Armitstead on the back. With 200 metres to go though, it was Vos that launched her sprint first; the Dutchwoman left Zabelinskaya standing, but Armitstead was now sprinting behind her.

Once Vos was up to speed however, the result was in no doubt, and the outstanding rider of the women’s peloton cried out in elation as she took a long overdue, first international road championship since her World title of 2006.

Result London 2012 Olympic women’s road race
1. Marianne Vos (Ned) Netherlands
2. Elizabeth Armitstead (GBr) Great Britain
3. Olga Zabelinskaya (Rus) Russian Federation @ 2s
4. Ina Teutenberg (Ger) Germany @ 27s
5. Giorgia Bronzini (Ita) Italy
6. Emma Johansson (Swe) Sweden
7. Shelley Olds (USA) United States
8. Pauline Ferrand Prevot (Fra) France
9. Liesbet De Vocht (Bel) Belgium
10. Aude Biannic (Fra) France


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