This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com
Marianne Vos (Netherlands) took gold at the women’s road race at the London 2012 Olympics with a perfectly timed sprint that saw her home ahead of Lizzie Armitstead (Great Britain) and Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia).
The trio had gone clear with over 40 kilometres still to race and fought out a tense, rain-soaked finale on London’s Mall. While Armitstead was best-placed as the sprint began, she was unable to come around Vos, who claimed her second Olympic gold medal after winning the points race on the track in Beijing four years ago.
The winning move was sparked over the top of the final ascent of Box Hill, as first Zabelinskaya and Armitstead went clear, and then Vos reacted forcefully on the descent, bringing Shelly Olds (USA) with her. The quartet quickly built up a lead of 40 seconds, but Olds punctured out of the break on the fast run-in to London, and a general regrouping behind meant that Vos, Zabelinskaya and Armitstead had to continue their collaborate all the way into the final kilometres before contesting the sprint for the medals.
Armitstead, Vos and Zabelinskaya
The early exchanges
Although the morning began with warm sunshine, the winds blew up and rain began to fall as at the conclusion of the sign in, and by the time the flag was dropped, the roads were drenched as were the riders.
The peloton set off under control of the British, American and Dutch teams, aiming to keep their favourites in contention and safe from crashes. The first attack came early in the race, just five kilometers in when Janildes Dernandes Silva launched a move that got only 15 seconds. She was caught on a slight rise in Richmond Park a few kilometers later.
The run out from London to the Box Hill circuit was alternately wet and sunny, with riders taking turns gingerly on wet roads to stay upright. The sudden decrease in speed led to a crash at the back of the field by Taipei's Hsiao Mei Yu and Grete Treier (Estonia), though both riders were able to continue.
On the approach to the Box Hill circuit, the Dutch sent off two consecutive attacks through Loes Gunnewijk and Ellen van Dijk, but the peloton wasn't quite ready to let anything go clear. Shara Gillow (Auatralia) attempted to get away on a rise further along, but was quickly marked by the Americans.
Once on the circuit, Van Dijk put in a stinging move, but she was marked, first by the Italian team, and then Kristin Armstrong (USA) closed the final gap. Gunnewijk countered the move, and this time it was more difficult for the peloton to close down the gap. Italy was forced to do much of the work chasing, with world champion Giorgia Bronzini clearly the team's main card for the medal rostrum.
Australia continued the aggression but lacked the punch to get away, but the rapid pace on the approach to Box Hill had the peloton strung out.
As the peloton entered the turn onto the climb, Team USA had control of the front, and as soon as the road kicked up, Evelyn Stevens attacked, quickly marked by Emma Pooley and South African Ashleigh Moolman. Soon Vos, Johansson and the rest of the favourites had come across and so the first of two ascents of the climb ended stalemate – even sprinter Ina Teutenberg (Germany) was present at the front.
Box Hill makes the difference
Clara Hughes set the pace into the feed zone before being swamped by a surge from the Italian and German team as the roads narrowed ahead of the tricky, high speed descent. Ina Teutenberg led the peloton safely down at 57kph, but as the road flattened the Vos put in a move. She was marked by American Shelley Olds, and with such a strong sprinter on her wheel she refused to commit to the attack.
As they were caught, the Dutch aggression continued, with Van Vleuten putting in one unsuccessful move before Van Dijk attacked, gaining a dozen seconds on the reduced peloton. She was soon joined by Audrey Cordon (France), but without sufficient contribution from the Frenchwoman the move was reeled in before the second ascent of Box Hill.
The second climb failed to provide any further opportunity for attacks, although several riders pushed the pace: Clara Hughes (Canada), Pia Sundstedt (Finland), Stevens (USA), Pooley (Great Britain) and Arndt (Germany), but even the world time trial champion couldn't stay away.
Pooley had a go at a counter-attack, and as the pace heated up behind, the Dutch lost Loes Gunnewijk to a crash.
Neben then bridged to Pooley, leaving Vos to close down the move herself. Not satisfied to be caught, Pooley kept the pressure on, but she was countered by Vos on a small rise. At the same time, the defending Olympic champion Nicole Cooke was caught out and chasing hard with Tatiana Antoshina (Russia). As the riders up front neutralized each other, Cooke was able to rejoin, and the race was all back together.
A crash at the back took down Armstrong and Stevens, with the former the worst off. At the same time Van Dijk was back on the attack, forcing the Americans to work hard to chase, but they rejoined in time for Vos to launch a powerful move with 50km to go.
The leading trio pass Buckingham Palace
Armitstead was next after the Dutch move was chased down, the British rider hammered out a 10 second lead on the descent, and was chased by Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia). From behind, Vos attacked from the field and was marked by Olds. Soon all four riders were together off the front.
Vos drove the breakaway through pounding rain to stretch out a 20 second advantage over the peloton with 31km to go. Olds was dropped soon after, leaving all the medals up the road with a 26 second lead.
Behind, Italy, Germany and Canada were chasing full on for their sprinters but the leaders were too strong.
Zabelinskaya took the lead with one kilometer to go, but the race for gold was always going to be between Vos and Armitstead. When Vos came to the front, there was no chance for the Briton to come around, and the win went to The Netherlands.