Highlights of 2012 – Part IV

Everyone predicted Marianne Vos would win gold in the Olympic Road Race and when she did people celebrated one of the best races of the year. It’s a paradox that the predictable result still provided one of the best races of the year but this was thanks to fine tactics, a dose of good fortune and grim weather.

Russia’s Olga Zabelinskaya launched the winning move, exploiting an awkward section of the Box Hill circuit that also saw the winning break form in the men’s road race. Zabelinskaya was joined by Vos, the USA’s Shelley Olds and Lizzie Armitstead of Britain. The four got a gap and quickly turned into a meaningful escape although the lead reached 20 seconds, 22 seconds and slowly crept up but they never got a comfortable margin. Disaster struck for Shelley Olds when she punctured. A good sprinter she could have challenged Vos but fate decided otherwise. This left a trio, each was certain of a medal if they could stay away and stay upright but the time gap was slim for a long time providing suspense as rain poured down. Vos won in a good sprint, Zabelinskaya had been working hard and was outmanoeuvred and Armitstead, well it wasn’t her year. Vos finally landed the big won she’d been targetting and later won the Worlds at home in the Netherlands.

In a way hindsight doesn’t do this race any good, it was all about the moment. The suspense of the breakaway versus the bunch, the darkness and the downpour. Even the poor television production added to the tension as viewers did not get regular updates on the time gaps or the distance remaining which added to the uncertainty.

20 thoughts on “Highlights of 2012 – Part IV”

  1. Couldn’t agree more, for me as a Dutchman one of the most nerve-wracking but satisfying races of 2012. After the Peking debacle and five consecutive second places on the Worlds, this victory was so well deserved (although it was a pity Olds punctured). Come to think of it, her Valkenburg victory would also be in my Highlights of 2012 – three laps in a row attacking on the Cauberg with such display of vigor and Merckxian cannabalism. I was there on the Cauberg, in the final corner toward the finishline of the Amstel Gold (1,5K to the actual finishline of the Championship race), and you could hear the cheering crowds like thunder rolling in when she made her final jump. Man, I still get goosebumps thinking of it…

  2. … And the added ingredient was the crushing expectations of the entire home nation desperate for its first medal, heaped on little Lizzie Armitstead, who couldn’t quite get on top of her big gear in the final sprint, and who left it a teensy bit late, but who still did us all incredibly proud. Your description is apt… The moment, the apocalyptic weather, the dreadful commentary and coverage… The release at the finish line that we could start celebrating, and the start of something wonderful for the next two weeks that could make us all feel proud to be British… In fact, your description of the weather makes me remember Nicole Cooke’ gold in Bejing 4 years ago, which again came with a huge emotional release… Seemed fitting she won then, as it does Vos winning this year – the strongest cyclists of their generation at that time… Fitting.

    My five year old son, when I asked him what event he’d like to enter in the Rio Olympics, replied immediately: “the women’s road race, Daddy… I want to crush it like Marianne Vos”

    I’m rambling now, apologies. Cracking series you are writing, this. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

  3. We watched this on Box Hill, then stood in the pouring rain at the top of the hill watching on the big screen with hundreds of others – the tension was palpable.
    My children’s first big sporting moment, I watched them both rapt with attention as the trio rolled through the London outskirts.
    My daughter cried out “Lizzie Lost”, I said she still got a silver at the Olympics.
    A lifetime memory for us all.

  4. Wow, if you needed to rediscover why you love cycling, just read this inrng post and the comments by Sebastiaan, Roadslave and Andy! Rolling thunder, crush it like Marianne (to quote a 5 year old) and two other kids rapt with attention at their first bike race. Think I’ll go out for a spin now. Thanks all

  5. One of the few London events I watched. Well worth my time.

    I feel bad for Lizzie. Imagine how awesome a story would be for a Brit to beat one of the best on home turf. And INRRNG is right, hindsight is 20/20. But even then, what do you do when you are in a break with stronger riders and not much left in the tank?

    You either show your hand early or follow wheels to the last 100 [if even]. I think every racer runs that scenario over and over in their mind if they come 2nd or 3rd. “Did I do enough?” Such a hard question to answer, because in the moment – you feel like you are. Afterwards, you tell yourself you could have done more… Bah.

  6. Wouldn’t it be great if we could just get rid of the non riders in our sport. From the UCI to the bullies in your local club. The pure pleasure of riding and striving to achieve your best is hard to beat… Keep the great stories coming.

  7. I have to confess, that before this race I had a slightly dismissive view of womens racing. Partly due to the lack of TV coverage I had the impression that womens racing wasn’t as tough or exciting as the mens…..I was wrong!

    The race was amazing and shattered my illusion of womens racing. I have since discovered the blog of a female dutch rider Marijin de Vries who writes in both Dutch and English about her life as a pro racer, some articles are light hearted and fun but some are stories of the tough life endured by the women who don’t enjoy the money and support of the men.

    So, in a way, this race was the highlight of the year for me as it opened up a new chapter of the sport that I hadn’t appreciated before until now.

  8. I watched this race in a pub on Leith Hill not too far from Box Hill, after having spent the morning cycling parts of the course in a lot better weather conditions than in the afternoon.

    The atmosphere in the pub was fantastic. People who normally don’t watch cycling were completely immersed in the race, cheering on all riders, and providing their own opinions on best tactics and strategy. It was fantastic to watch the Brits in action on home soil, on roads that were suddenly elevated from mundane commuting infrastructure into a battleground in which grit, determination and attrition take centre court.

    This race was a highlight on the sporting calendar of 2012. It was a race in its purest form, a race filled with countless attacks until one of them stuck, but only just. No team clearly dominated, no team tried to control the race. It was every rider on its own. The torrential rain amplified all of this into something truly epic.

  9. I was lucky enough to be at both races, and yes womens racing is great to see, the epic heroism of their efforts becoming even more enhanced by the realisation, when, after the finish they remove helmets and glasses giggle and hug each other, the heroine’s are little girls, impressive.

  10. It was a fantastic, exciting race – the aggression shown prior to the break forming was impressive.

    Olds puncturing was justice for her doing little in the break. Miss turns towards the finale if you’ve got a sprint by all means but don’t rely on the hard work of others to get there.

  11. I was fortunate enough to be sat on The Mall at the finish line for this race. It was a great race with a worthy winner and great for GB to have Lizzie get silver in such an attacking manner.

    However it is disappointing to see afterwards that women’s road racing is still poorly supported by teams, sponsors, race organisers and the UCI.

    With the strength in depth of British women endurance riders I am still mystified why SKY has not backed a women’s team. It would cost peanuts compared to the resources going into the mens team. And next years London Ride event doesn’t have a women’s race.

  12. That Olympic race was so thrilling and I was hoping so much that Marianne would win, that I couldn’t hold back my tears when she did.
    The best race of the year for me.
    Second best was the womens worlds in Valkenburg where I saw the spectacle before my own eyes only 10 metres from the finish.

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