This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Emma Pooley (Great Britain) couldn't watch. Evelyn Stevens (United States) had her hands clasped together in prayer and Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) could only watch on the big screen.
Judith Arndt (Germany) was the coolest and the calmest, and she was still out on the course, but powering towards the line. In a tense battle for the women's world time trial championships, experience paid with the German winning her fourth crown in a time of 32.26.46.
Stevens - a relative rookie in comparison - held silver, over half a minute in arrears while Villumsen secured bronze ahead of a disconsolate Pooley. If women's cycling was in need of any promotional push, Valkenbrug's time trial was the tonic, as the 2012 Worlds finally came alive.
The 24.1-kilometre course had everything: A legendary champion hoping for one last triumph; a gutsy American with a point to prove after missing Olympic selection; a home nation still scrambling for their first senior individual medal and a cameo cast of athletes performing on the world's biggest stage.
But Arndt was not going to let anyone's lines spoil her script. The German was the last rider to set out from the start house, the embodiment of intent and purpose that has been the benchmark for every other, as she powered down the start ramp.
Ahead of her Stevens, Villumsen and Pooley were locked in battle, separated by less than a second at the first time check at 10.7 kilometres. All three displayed contrasting styles. Pooley spun a light gear as she bided her time and waited for the climbs. Villumsen crunched through the gears in unbreakable fashion as Stevens made up for any technical deficiencies with a sprightly blend of power and guile.
Arndt married all those qualities together and more, searing through first check six seconds faster than any of her opposition and by the second time check, Stevens had lost a further four seconds, Villumsen another nine, while Pooley had slipped to 22 seconds. The Dutch favourite Eleonora van Dijk hovered dangerously in fifth, but the vain hope that one of the leading four would make a mistake that would never materialise.
It was Stevens who crossed the line first in a time of 33:00:23. She dislodged her Specialized - lululemon teammate, Ina Teutenburg, of Germany from the hot seat. Teutenburg had earlier relegated Martina Sablikova (Russia).
Stevesn, who had finished 15th in last year's Worlds - a ride which may have cost her a slot in the US Olympic time trial team - nervously made her way to the hot seat for the long wait. Amber Neben (America), Rhae-Christine Shaw (Canada), Pooley, Villumsen and Arndt, were still to finish but one by one they trickled through. The Cauberg did in Neben, who dropped from sixth to seventh by the line, while Shaw could only manage 22nd.
Pooley, Villumsen and Arndt had decided the medals in last year's race, and it was the British all-rounder who was the next to finish. However the former Olympic silver medallist could only secure provisional second, therefore guaranteeing Stevens a medal. The colour would depend on Villumsen and a pursuing Arndt and as the New Zealand rider grinded up the Caugberg.
It initially looked as though Pooley would sneak bronze but on the false flat Villumsen pushed for the line, finishing nine seconds ahead of the British rider, who could only bury her head in a towel as the inevitable moved even closer.
Arndt had a 30-second lead on the foot of the final climb but whereas Villumsen remained seated and Pooley looked to dance up the slopes, the German remained consistent, rising from the saddle whenever the need occurred, before coming through the finish line to take gold and her rainbow jersey.
Arndt's career still flickers and although it will be extinguished after the road race on Sunday, her performance and those of her competitors, has finally set the championships alight.