Dutchwoman Marianne Vos was among the big names left trailing Sunday as Nicole Cooke defied testing conditions on the women's road race to hand Britain their first Olympic gold in Beijing.
After three-and-a-half hours of wet and slippery racing, Cooke came over the finish line in triumph ahead of Sweden's Emma Johansson and Italian Tatiana Guderzo to claim her first Olympic title.
Some of the big favourites including Vos, Germany's Judith Arndt and Australian Oenone Wood failed to live up to expectations.
Cycling phenomenon Vos had been aiming for three golds but will now have to focus on the time trial and track cycling's points race after failing to react to a decisive move towards the end of the 126 kilometre race. She finished first of a small bunch that had been chasing Cooke's five-strong group, but finished 21 seconds behind the Welshwoman.
"I saw the group breaking away but I was too far behind to react straight away. But to be honest, there wasn't much left in the legs," said the 21-year-old, who has won world titles in road, track and cyclo-cross.
Arndt was hopeful of making up for her silver in Athens after a superb 2008 season on the women's elite circuit but, despite a confident start, she trailed even further behind as the race approached its thrilling climax. She finished one minute 27 seconds off the pace of Cooke, and admitted that the rain - that had left treacherous puddles on many sections of the course - had not been to her benefit.
"I felt like I was a paddleboat," said the German. "I'm very disappointed. We wanted a medal."
Australian Sara Carrigan beat Arndt to the gold in 2004, but she and team leader Wood lost touch in the crucial closing stages. Once the peloton hit the 23.8km circuit and its nine kilometre climb for the second time, the Aussie pair ran out of juice as numerous attacks came and went.
At 18km to go they lost their team helper, Katherine Bates, who had done her job for the day. Wood could only finish 29th, 53 seconds behind, with Carrigan just over a minute adrift of the champion in 38th place.
"It's a disappointing result for us but I guess on the day in the road race you can only give it 100 percent," said Wood.
Carrigan admitted that surrendering her crown had been a painful experience.
"Former Olympic champion - it's a little bit sad (to hear)," said Carrigan. "I felt good on the first climb but on the second climb I just didn't quite have it to go with the leaders, and that was my race over."
France's Jeannie Longo is 49 years old and came into her seventh Olympics with 13 world titles and 55 national titles to her name - the two most recent won in June on the road and in the time trial. But after preparing for another shot at the title in the dry heat of Colorado and New Mexico, the 1996 Olympic road champion admitted to feeling the chills.
"Halfway through the race I took the lead of the peloton because my muscles were cold and I just wanted to get them going," said Longo. "I am a bit disappointed because I'm in the best shape for a long time. But I do have big expectations for the time trial."
© AFP 2008