9 laps of 13.2km 118km total
This was a road race which slowly gathered excitement and pace throughout the afternoon. There were some breakaways which didn't really amount to much until Lynne Bessette made an impact on the race early into the second half. Then, defending Champion Leontien van Moorsel crashed out with Canadian Susan Palmer-Komar off the front and the race took off.
It was a long time coming, but this Olympic road race was full of excitement in the final 2 laps. Sara Carrigan had a quick word with Oenone Wood whilst the 2 Australians were in a small breakaway, then she went 'for a long one' - caught only by Judith Arndt on the final climb. She then easily outsprinted Arndt to the line, followed up by Olga Slyusareva, just pipping Oenone Wood for the bronze.
Here's what happened :
Awaiting the riders at the medals presentation were French skiing legend, Jean-Claude Killy and Pat McQuaid, the Irish President of the UCI Road Commission.
Starting at 3pm, local time, the riders faced a wind from the Northeast and lower temperatures than the previous day - for the men's road race. At the start, the temperature was around 30'C.
The first lap saw all riders still together and the lap complete in 22minutes 55 seconds. The Dutch riders dominated the front of the peleton - defending Champion, Leontien Zijlaard van Moorsel and Anouska van der Zee protecting Mirjam Melchers, who was ranked as number 1 in the UCI rankings at the start of the day. Other riders sat comfortably in the peleton, Oenone Wood was marked constantly by Britain's Nicole Cooke, whilst Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli went between first and last rider in the race. There was a minor fall through the 'S' bends, when Lene Byberg fell on her own.
By the third lap, everyone was still together, although Frenchwoman Edwige Pitel and Estonian Maaris Meier fell on lap 2, the pace was sufficiently low that they were able to regain the bunch quite easily. A pattern was developing, though, with Longo-Ciprelli riding to the front of the peleton each time up the hill, to mark any dangerous escapes. After she'd led the climb, she dropped back to last rider on the road again. A puncture for Madeleine Lindberg on the third climb was of no consequence and she regained the bunch at the bottom of the climb.
Story of the day, perhaps was the non-start by Dianne Zilute of Lithuania. Click here for details
During the fourth lap, Edwig Pitel of France was a little caught out by an attack in the area of the pits. She changed back to her original bike (a result of the incident in Lap 2) just as the pace increased. She had to chase hard to get back on. The attacker was Spanish rider, Eneritz Iturriarga. The pits were just before the climb and by the time she reached the summit, she was around 30 seconds ahead of the bunch. This was a bunch which was seemingly not worried about the escapee, perhaps the least-well known of the Spanish trio and which did not chase immediately.
At the foot of the climb, Sonia Huguet was noted by race radio as a crash, but her problem was perhaps more mechanical, with a problem causing slipping and grinding in her rear derailleur. A unique problem was faced by Iryna Chuzhynova, who suffered problems with her rear derailleur when a portion of one of the flags hung all around the circuit became tangled in her gears.
In the cobbled section beneath the Acropolis, Brazilian rider, Fernand Janildes Silva went off the front of the bunch and rode across towards Iturriarga. She was out on her own for a long time, though, crossing the line to go into the fifth lap 42 seconds down on the leader. The bunch crossed the line 1 minute 13 seconds back. The chase by the bunch was eventually led by Susan Palmer-Komar, the experienced Canadian who placed 10th in Atlanta in 1996. But there was no organisation to her chase. As they approached the bottom of the climb, Silva sat up, never having made it across to the Spaniard. Just before the pits, Manon Jutras, another Canadian jumped strongly off the front and in pursuit of Iturriarga. She was soon brought back, but the damage had been done to the lead, which was reduced to 26 seconds. Iturriaruga sat up and was caught initially by Arndt, van Moorsel, Ljungskog and Wood.
The change in pace on the fifth climb was obvious - the bunch was shattered at the summit. Anouska van der Zee was a notable rider at the back, whilst a small group developed at the front led by Swiss rider Nicole Brandli. Instead of forcing the pace, though, six or seven riders looked over their shoulders and seemingly decided to wait for the peleton. The move was a significant dress-rehearsal, though - all the main players had read the move : Long-Ciprelli, van Moorsel, Wood, Cooke, Gollan, Arndt, Melchers, Jutras. A second wave of significant names joined the initial group, including Dede Barry. This was the first time that the team cars had been brought into the gap, which was good news for the Australian team - just as they passed under the Acropolis, Olivia Gollan punctured, but she had a very good change and was back into the bunch within 1km.
Into the early part of the sixth lap, Sonia Huguet of France attacked, was caught and went again. By the foot of the climb, she had a 55second lead. The tall Frenchwoman had the support of teammate, Ciprelli-Longo, who moved to the front of the bunch to control matters. Lynne Bessette, Canada led the bunch up the climb. The lead was reduced slightly to 42 seconds by the time they reached the summit, but the bunch was not pressured by this reduction - they were all still pretty much together. However, Besette led the chase again and a time check towards the bottom of the hill saw the gap at 35seconds.
There was excitement as the race approached 40km to go. Taking over the effort back towards the start / finish straight was Judith Arndt (Germany), followed by Olivia Gollan, three others and a Frenchwoman. There was hesitation in the chase again though and other riders started crossing the gap into the chasing group. Huguet was caught early in the seventh lap. However, the pace began to tell and the race was split into 3 sections.
In the first group were all three Australians, all three Germans, Nicole Cooke, Nicole Brandt, Suzanne Ljunskgog, van Moorsel, the Lithuanians and Norwegian Byberg. However, the names in the bunch were perhaps too powerful, too many famous names and the whole group sat up, to allow the bunch to come back up to them. In a classic move, just as everyone relaxed, Lynne Bessette tried her luck, but gained no more than 10 seconds.
Bessette approached the climb with 20 seconds lead over the bunch. Judith Arndt once more led the chase up the 10% gradient. Her place at the front was taken by Edwig Pitel of France and even Leontien Zijlaard van Moorsel on the descent. These two gained a short advantage over the rest, which caused an immediate reaction from the bunch. The effort caused a split of six or seven riders, but everything came back together once again as the race approached the Greek Parliament buildings. A long string of riders meant that the field, although under pressure was complete once more.
Another attack on the cobbled section was another classic move - Bessette the Canadian had just been caught and was sitting towards the front of the group and compatriot Susan Palmer-Komar quickly gained 56 seconds heading through the finish area.
There was a desperate crash underneath the finish banner with 2 laps to go. Leontien van Moorsel had just relinquished her position at the front of the chase as the long line passed under the banner. She looked over her shoulder, veered to the left, touched wheels with the rider in front of her and went down heavily. Lynne Bessette was next in line and had nowhere to go, nor did the next rider, Nicole Brandli of Switzerland. Noone else fell, but the single line split into two parallel lines around the three fallers. van Moorsel sat crossed-legged in the road whilst the bunch passed - clearly completely stunned. The Dutch support team picked her up and took her to the side of the road to sit on the kerbstone, but she was never going to get back on her bike in this race. Brandt was up quickly and chased back - eventually getting to the back of the peleton. Bessette was forced to wait for wheel changes and got back onto her bike over 1minute after the race had passed the line.
Noemi Cantele broke away from the bunch to try to join Palmer-Komar in an acceleration just before the pits, where her lead was up to 1minute 12 seconds. This had risen to 1 minute 25 seconds by the top of the climb. A chase was led by Nicole Cooke, quickly joined by Mirjam Melchers and Oenone Wood. The Italian was caught, leaving the Canadian out on her own with 18km to go. Palmer-Komar was eventually caught at 03:00:00hrs raced. It was just at this point, slightly further back, that Andrea Brodtka fell but got back on again quickly. It was also at just about this point that Sara Carrigan made contact with the lead group, giving the Australians representation of 2 in the breakaway of 8.
Palmer-Komar, Wood, Carrigan, Cooke, Arndt, Melchers, Joane Somarribia (Spain) and Olga Slyusareva had a 21 second advantage as they took the bell - 13.2km to go. Sara Carrigan rode away from the others, allowing Oenone Wood a soft ride as the others chased. Judith Arndt was the first to react as Carrigan approached the start of the climb - she powered off the front of the group. Meantime, the Australians were riding a textbook race, albeit with limited capability to really control anything in teams of 3; Carrigan up front, Wood in the lead group and Olivia Gollan disrupting the pace of the chasing bunch 20 seconds back.
Arndt made contact with Carrigan at the foot of climb. Nicole Cooke tried to split the chasers on the climb, she was followed by Melchers and Wood. Unfortunately, Palmer-Komar felt the pace and the effort of her attack and slipped backwards and away from the medals.
Carrigan attacked Arndt again on descent and the pair had a 10 second advantage as they went through the bends towards the bottom. Victims of the speedy descent were Melchers and Nicole Cooke, who slid along the barriers, without falling on the 90' right hand turn. The pair regained their position in the chasing group.
Arndt was perhaps the favourite as the pair went into the final couple of kilometres. Their 25 seconds advantage seemingly unassailable. Meanwhile, further back, Mirjam Melchers jumped, gaining 25 metres off the front, but was chased back quickly by Oenone Wood.
Into the final 1km, Carrigan was in great position behind Arndt. They came slowly into the final 400m - Carrigan refused to come through. Arndt simply rode onwards, glancing occasionally over her shoulder. This was her error - with 250m to go, she looked right, Carrigan jumped, Arndt looked left and didn't see Carrigan accelerating to her right - it was all over. All Arndt could do was watch as Carrigan celebrated well before the line.
The sprint for the bronze medal was tight. It looked for a moment as if Wood might make it an exciting 2 out of 3 for the Australians, but Olga Slyusareva was too strong and took her on the line.
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