The women’s worlds race is one of my favorite days of the entire cycling year. Every year, I find me some video, eat the perfect pre-race meal (fish tacos, yes!), and settle in for some bike racing. I’ve yet to be disappointed. On paper, the Geelong course looked perfect for the women’s race, offering just enough opportunity for the attacking riders while still keeping the hopes of the sprinters alive. And so, it turned out to be. The race came down to a sprint, just as the U23 and men’s races did, but not until the very end did the sprinters have their chance.
Katheryn Curi Mattis got the fun job of riding off the front for something like 100 kilometers. Her escape earned Mattis the prize for most aggressive, and the former U.S. national time trial champion looked silly strong, the kilometers turning inexorably over. The U.S. women did what they could with this course, with both Amber Neben and Evelyn Stevens attacking the climbs on the final laps, but the climbs didn’t offer them much advantage, and Shelly Olds didn’t have the speed for the finale. You have to work with what you have, and the U.S., who have steadily risen to a high level in the world rankings over the past few seasons, did what they could.
Behind Mattis, Emma Pooley of Britain showed her usual feistyness. Really, the other girls must be thinking she doesn’t like them or something. Never one to sit on, Pooley attacked repeatedly on the climbs. There was never quite enough road for Pooley to escape, though it wasn’t for lack of trying. Was the British tactic for Pooley to make the race hard, and set up Nicole Cooke’s late attack? Or, did Pooley hope to score a Double Rainbow? Either answer is possible, which ensured that no one could ignore Pooley’s attack. My favorite Pooley moment came when she attacked on the climb, and overtook Katheryn Curi Mattis. Mattis must be one of the tallest women in the field, and Pooley, well, the British climber is definitely not tall.
Nicole Cooke very nearly gave the British team a second gold medal to match Pooley’s crono success. Cooke laid out a late move on the descent, which Judith Arndt joined. Gutsy, this attacking on the descent. Arndt always makes the finale at Worlds, but she hasn’t the speed of a rider like Cooke. If the two made it the line, it was almost certainly Cooke’s race to win, when the two riders went free. Arndt won me over with the one-finger salute in 2004, so in the two-up with Cooke, I was cheering for the German. Oh, Judith, how I wish you had a sprint. Really, I thought they had the race won, Cooke and Arndt.
Was it me, or did the Canadians seem to materialize out of nowhere in the finale? Wham, there they were, chasing, and chasing hard. To some degree, the sprinters owe their shot to the hard work from the two Canadian riders in the final kilometers. They did serious damage to the gap on Cooke and Arndt. If the Italians made an error in their race tactics, it may have been here, where Guderzo and Cantele seemed to disappear at a crucial moment. The Italians failed to cover the Arndt-Cooke move, then did not seem to have the legs to chase for the sprint. It was an odd moment of weakness from a team that otherwise showed formidable strength. Maybe they simply viewed the Arndt-Cooke move as a distraction, and by then, believed that the sprint would come.
And come it did. Vos! Vos! Vos! ARRRGGHH! Vos! ARRRGGGHHH!
That’s the fourth road race silver medal for Marianne Vos. Heartbreaker. Vos led out the sprint from way out, likely believing that Arndt and Cooke would stay away. Vos, she always takes responsibility. I like that about her. In this race, she had solid support from her Dutch team, who did serious work throughout the late laps of the race. In a post-race interview, she admitted that she likely worked too hard on the climbs, and indeed, Vos covered several moves from Pooley when she might have profited from letting others do the work.
But that isn’t the sort of rider that Vos is. She races for it, and much of the time, those efforts bring her the big victories. As Teute told us, "everything is Vos territory." A rider who wins as much as Vos can’t expect anyone to help her, as well she knows, and her long sprint was a gallant effort to take another rainbow.
This Bronzini, she is fast, no? This worlds race offered my first chance to see Giorgia Bronzini sprint on video. Whoa, girlfriend’s speedy. Little wonder she already has a rainbow jersey in the Points race. In her post-race comments, Bronzini said she told herself, "wait, wait, wait," and wait she did. Bronzini came off the wheel of Emma Johansson at the 50 meter mark and opened nearly a bike length on second placed Vos. Impressiva.
Emma Johansson looked to hit a camera with her helmet along the barricades, but stayed up and took third from the grasp of Nicole Cooke. Vos closed the door along the barricades a bit there on Emma J, though it was a gradual drift and likely didn’t change the outcome. As they crossed the line, Emma reached out to give Marianne a little pat, as if to say, sorry girl, you almost had it.
For the second year running, then, the Italians take home the rainbow. Maybe next year, they can skip the fire crotch shorts. Like Christmas, the women’s Worlds race only comes once a year. Geelong threw a lovely race, especially for the women, as the rolling terrain made for suspenseful racing. Also, I always like a waterfront bike race. Let’s do it again soon, shall we?