Wednesday, 1 August 2012
After the disappointment of the men's event, Britain's cyclists delivered the first home medal of the Games when Lizzie Armitstead finished second to the undisputed No.1 of women's cycling, Marianne Vos of the Netherlands in the women's road race. The pair, together with the Russian Olga Zabelinskaya, had held off the chasing field all the way from the foot of Box Hill to the doors of Buckingham Palace amid torrential rain and thunder on the Mall.
Vos and Armitstead fought out the finish side by side, with the Yorkshirewoman perfectly positioned on Vos's wheel as the sprint began, but unable to find the strength to come past. After 25 miles fighting off the peloton at the end of the 80-mile race, with the gap never over a minute, this was a test of pure strength.
It was vindication for Armitstead nevertheless, who is aged 23, comes from Otley in Yorkshire and is a product of the Great Britain talent identification system. She finished last year's world road championship in Copenhagen in tears after a late crash cost her a possible medal, and had gambled on transferring her talents full-time to the road this year rather than trying for a medal in the team pursuit or the omnium on the track, where she made her initital breakthrough.
As for Vos, she started the race as the overwhelming favourite and lived up to that status, with her team on the attack from the off to soften up the opposition. The Dutchwoman, a former speed skater, has built one the finest palmares in cycling, men or women's, winning gold medals across a wide range of disciplines: road, track and cyclo-cross. This was her second Olympic title after winning the points race in Beijing, and it is the climax of three seasons almost total domination of her sport.
The trio had escaped after the last climb of Box Hill with 40km to go to the Mall when Zabelinskaya went clear of the peloton on the smaller ascent at Headley, Emma Pooley initially gave chase before Vos made her move marked by Armitstead and Shelley Olds of the US. That set up an intense chase over the next 20km, with the German and Italian teams taking up the pursuit initially, but failing to bring the quartet under control.
Vos always looked the strongest of the four, with Olds giving way relatively early on, and Zabelinskaya visibly struggling, clearly unable to take a full turn at the pacemaking. But it was a brave effort from Lizzie and our first medal of the games - Well done girls!!