After the excitement of the Olympic Road Race on Sunday, the women’s peloton have been either relaxing and cheering on their team-mates in the other sports…. Or training on the London roads, ready for the Individual Time Trial.
The course is flat, and the riders are exceptional! The start-list has four former World ITT Champions in Judith Arndt, Emma Pooley, Kristin Armstrong and Amber Neben, and nine riders have won 16 Olympic medals between them. It will be hard fought – and below the jump I’ll tell you a little about the riders to watch out for – and how to follow them.
Judith Arndt of Germany starts the race as the favourite, if we’re looking at consistent results across this kind of course. She’s the reigning World ITT Champion, and as she’s apparently planning to retire at the end of the season, she’s looking to take as much glory as she can when she goes, both in the ITT and when she rides the Team Pursuit.
Arndt always makes me smile – an ITT star whose favourite aspect of cycling is the team work. She’s already got two Olympic medals – a bronze in the track from 1996, and a silver from the 2004 road race, to go with her road ITT and track World Champs jerseys, twenty national titles, and wins in every important stage race except the Giro Donne. Her form is fantastic at the moment, coming to London after racing for Orica-AIS all year, winning the tough Thüringen Rundfahrt for the third time. I can’t wait to see what she does on this course!
The reigning Olympic Champion
Kristin Armstrong of the USA was the 2008 winner, and she starts as a bit of a mystery. She retired at the end of the 2009 season to have a baby, and came back just for this race. We haven’t seen her in action against the best in the world except in the EnergieWacht Tour, where she won the ITT, and the Ronde van Vlaanderen, whre she came second after Arndt. We were expecting to be able to benchmark her against the other Americans at the Exergy Tour in May – except she fell in the prologue and broker her collarbone, so we’ve got no idea how she’ll compare – although she certainly knows how to prepare!
Armstong was born into a military family, and attended high school in Japan. She started out as a triathlete, until osteoarthritis scuppered her running – but it turned out triathlon’s loss was cycling’s gain. Since her return to cycling, she’s been heavily involved with promoting the sport in the USA, through the Exergy TWENTY12 team and the Exergy Tour in her hometown of Boise – as well as inspiring a generation of young women!
You can follow the next stages of her career via her website and her twitter.
The host-country heroines
There will be two British riders in the race, team-mates from AA Drink-Leontien.nl – I can already picture the kind of reception that waits for Lizzie Armitstead, whose silver in the road race was the first British medal of the Games. But while this course plays to her ITT strengths, the real British medal hope is her team-mate, Emma Pooley.
Pooley is definitely one of the top favourites, even without the home ground advantage. She won an ITT silver in Beijing, the World Championships in 2010, and was bronze in the Copenhagen Worlds. That tiny frame packs one gigantic ITT punch! The flat course isn’t perfect for her – but here’s hoping the crowds on the side of the road give her a lift.
Off the bike, Pooley is just as formidable. She’s completing a PhD, in geo-technical engineering, and campaigns for Amnesty International – and reading her interviews is always a pleasure, as she combines her intelligence with a sharp sense of humour, and very human doubts about herself. I recommend just googling for some Pooley interviews – like the one with Jen See, right here on the Café, and you’ll love her too!
Pooley doesn’t do public social media, but Armitstead has been posting some very happy, very grateful (and very funny) updates on her twitter.
Another former World Champion
If Pooley has a great story, so does Amber Neben, the other World ITT Champion from the USA. She’s hard a tough journey to London – from meningitis as a baby, multiple stress fractures as teenager that prevented her running career, and skin cancer in 2007, that she still has to be vigilant about. On top of tall that, she was caught in a doping scandal, when she tested positive for 19-Norandrosterone. She was adamant about her innocence, but immediately withdrew from competition. She was able to prove the positive came from tainted supplements, and the American Federation and the UCI all agreed she hadn’t intended to dope and gave her just a 6-month ban – and she later won a court case against the supplement maker, proving it wasn’t her fault. On top of all THAT, she was one of the riders left without a pro-team for 2010, after Skyter Shipping collapsed…. It’s been a real relief to see her have a couple of years where the only fireworks have been from how she races!
Instead of dealing with drama this year, Neben has been a key part of USA Cycling’s plans to get as many of their women racing in the Olympics as possible, racing the new South American UCI races, and becoming Pan-American ITT Champion. She’s also the USA’s ITT Champion, and came second in the Exergy Tour on an all-Specialized-lululemon podium. Off the bike, she’s a biology graduate who says it’s her Christian faith that got her through her troubles – and she does a lot for charity, including her own Dare To Be Project, which provides bikes and aspiration-raising work with homeless children in the USA.
Neben tweets, and blog on her website is and you can learn more about Dare To Be at their website
The Former Junior ITT Champion
If you weren’t aware of Olga Zabelinskaya before, you certainly will have been after the Olympic road race! It was the Russian’s attack that caused the final, decisive break, and it’s no wonder that when she attacked, Marianne Vos followed.
Zabelinskaya’s Olympic bronze was added to her 1997 Junior World ITT Champion medal, and her gold as u23 ITT Champion in 2002. She probably could have had more medals, but she’s got the gaps in her palmares that come with having two young children. 2012 had been a quieter year than normal in terms of results – but the Olympic bronze makes up for all of that, especially as she’s a second-generation Olympian. Her father, Sergei Sukhoruchenkov, cycled for Russia in the 1980 games – watch out for her children in twenty year’s time!
Another second-generation Olympian
One of the men racing against Zabelinskaya’s father in 1980 was David Gillow, riding for Zimbabwe. His daughter, Shara Gillow, is keeping the tradition alive, racing for Australia in London.
Shara Gillow is a two-times Australian National and Oceania ITT Champion, despite a relatively late start to the sport. She’s the oldest of seven children, and saved up to buy her first racing bike when she was 16 (she loved it so much she accidentally polished until the undercoat came through!. She was predominantly a surfer girl, but in 2008 started racing seriously, and the next year as awarded a scholarship to the Queensland Academy of Sport. She rode in Europe with the Australian National Team – and when Team Aus weren’t invited to the 2011 Giro Donne, she rode as a guest with Bizkaia-Durango, won Stage 3 from a breakaway and became the only rider to wear the maglia rosa that year apart from Marianne Vos. She's in her first year on a pro team at Oricua-AIS, a solid bet for a top 10 placement tomorrow, and could do REALLY well.
Follow her twitter, & check out her blog which has a lovely piece about her father, and what cycling means to her
The Come-back Queen
I can’t believe it’s taken me until now to get to the most successful Olympian in the peloton! Canada’s Clara Hughes is on her sixth Games, her Summer Olympics to go with her three in Winter Games.
She’s just extraordinary! It’s not uncommon in the women’s peloton to have combined cycling with speed skating, but no one has done it with the success of Hughes. She won a bronze in 1996, the first time the women raced Olympic ITT, as well as a bronze in the road race; on the ice, she has a gold in the 5,000m from 2006, a silver and three bronzes. In fact the only time she came back from the Olympics without a medal was in 2000.
She’s not just a superstar in terms of sport, but has used her fame to do all kinds of good in the world. When she won her gold, she donated $10,000 of her own money to charity, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. She’s passionate about her charity work, and campaigns as an advocate for mental health, using her own depression to try to de-stigmatise and raise awareness of the issues.
One of the best things about Hughes returning to have a last try at Olympic cycling has been seeing how whole-heartedly she’s thrown herself back into the team environment. Specialized-lululemon are THE team of the Games (an amazing ten of their 13 riders are competing this year, on the road and track) and Hughes has been a mainstay of their road season, contributing not just on the roads, but sharing her insights into life on the road through her blogs on the team site, and on her own site. She’s been one of the strongest competitors in ITTs all year – no one would be surprised if she took a 7th Olympic medal home from London
Another major favourite
One of the biggest favourites who could prevent Hughes – and everyone else – from taking a medal is Linda Villumsen. The Danish-born New Zealander has been perfect rider to bet on in the recent World Championships, coming third in 2009 and 2011, and second last year. After a period of sickness at the start of the year, she’s ridden into incredible form, Orica-AIS giving her an environment that really suits the opportunistic, attacking style that won her the Giro Trentino.
Watch out for her!
Marianne Vos, without doubt, the best cyclist on the roads today, male or female, and one of the nicest riders in the peloton to boot, will be racing her heart out, as she always does, to try to add another medal to her road race gold. But the Dutchwoman to look out for on Wednesday is another Specialized-lululemon rider, Ellen van Dijk.
One of the best things about following the Olympic road race on twitter was seeing how many people fell in love with women’s cycling, and how excited the brand-new fans were by the attacking, aggressive style. Symbolising everything I love about Dutch-style racing was Ellen van Dijk, who set the first half of the race alight with what must have been 100 attacks, taking turns with Loes Gunnewijk, or just going again as soon as she was caught. This is what I love about the sport – these devastating attacks that are more to exhaust the chasers, up the pace and thin the peloton. It won her a ton of new admirers, too - as in this blog on Vicious Velo. The Dutch, British and American riders were relentless as they attacked over and over and over – and we’ll see Van Dijk’s pure power in a perfect setting in the ITT.
She started off combining cycling with skating, and it was a tough decision when she had to pick one to concentrate on, but aren’t we lucky she chose cycling? At 25, she’s from the same cycling year as Vos, and they’ve raced against each other all the way up through the Dutch structures. Just like Vos, she's a track world champion, winning the Scratch in 2008, and the following year she became European u23 ITT Champ too - can get add an Olympic medal to her palmares?
The Little Crazy Horse
The two Italians, Noemi Cantele and Tatiana Guderzo, are also likely to be in the top 10. Guderzo was silver medallist in the 2004 World ITT Champs, and Cantele - nicknamed "Little Crazy Horse" for her attacking style, won silver in 2009, after supporting Guderzo to win the Worlds road race, gaining a bronze in the process.
The Finnish Sand-castle Champion
Finally, I don’t think Pia Sundstedt will be in the medals, but I had to mention her, just because she’s so much fun, and always deserves some recognition. She was a road cycling superstar in the late ‘90s. early ‘00s before she switched to cross-country skiing and the kind of insane mountainbike marathon races that make you shake your head in disbelief. She’s won the Cape Epic and TransAlp stage races, the marathon World Cup series in '06, '07, '08 & '11, and just this year became European Marathon MTB champion. She’s come back to the road after ten years just for the Games, and you can read about all her adventures en route on her website blogs and her special London blog
Photos: Judith Arndt: Bryn Lennon, Getty; Kristin Armstrong: TeamTwenty12.com; Lizzie Armitstead: Sarah Connolly; Emma Pooley:Quinn Rooney, Getty; Amber Neben & Ellen van Dijk: www.velociosports.com; Shara Gillow: www.greenedgecycling.com; Clara Hughes: www.clara-hughes.com; Pia Sundstedt: http://piasundstedten.wordpress.com/