Flat tire kicks Olds off medal stand in cycling
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By SAMUEL PETREQUIN,
Updated July 30, 2012
LONDON (AP) With her seventh-place finish, Shelley Olds posted the best result for an American woman in the Olympic road race in 20 years. Now she's left wondering if it could have been better.
With only 50 kilometers remaining, Olds looked poised for a medal when she jumped in the winning breakaway made of eventual Olympic champion Marianne Vos "The Boss," Elizabeth Armitstead and Olga Zabelinskaya. A far better sprinter than Zabelinskaya, she had the weapons required to compete with Vos and Armitstead in the final stretch.
Then, bad luck struck: a punctured tire. She lost precious time waiting for a support car to help her change the wheel.
"I'm really devastated because I believe I definitely could have medaled," Olds said. "That was the winning move and I was in it. Seventh place, I guess I can be sort of happy with that, but when you're that close to a medal and then you're in seventh, then it's different."
After Olds dropped away, the three riders remaining in the break continued to press forward. Vos did most of the work at the front, pushing the gap to more than 30 seconds while a field led by the Italians and Americans frantically chased her. Vos made a daring move past Russia's Olga Zabelinskaya to emerge from the three-rider breakaway. Armitstead wound up with silver, Britain's first medal of the London Olympics.
Vos crossed the line 27 seconds of a chasing group that included Olds.
"That's just bike racing," Olds said. "I had to stop and wait for a wheel change. It wasn't a very fast wheel change. I was almost chasing to get back on to the end of the bunch. At that point, I thought there was still hope because Italy, Germany and the US weren't represented. I thought the three teams could chase enough to bring it back. Those girls were just riding too strong and they never came back."
Zabelinskaya, a time trial specialist, admitted she would have struggled to get a medal had Olds been able to take part in the final sprint.
"At one point I thought that if we were still four in the home stretch I could well end up without a medal," she said. "After Shelley dropped out, I worked harder to stay in this break."
Olds' seventh-place finish was the best for an American woman in the Olympic road race since Jeanne Golay ended sixth in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992. Armstrong noted that she had to overcome heavy rains that plagued several events at the games Sunday to finish as high as she did.
"We rode well together, it's unfortunate that Shelly flatted," Armstrong said. "It was really bad timing. A flat is never good timing but it was particularly bad timing because right when she came back after she had gotten the flat it started dumping tremendously. So to get up front and to pull off and orchestrate a chase along with the Germans and a few others was difficult."
Armstrong, who is set to defend her time trial title on Wednesday, also had her fair share of misfortunes after crashing at the bottom of the Box Hill climb.
"I went down, I have a little egg on my elbow, but it should not be a problem, nothing broken," Armstrong said after finishing 35th. "Now I have two days of recovery before Wednesday's time trial."
A former Olympic gold medalist in track cycling, Vos had grown accustomed in the past few years to finishing just off the top step in major races. She's been silver medalist five straight years at the world championships and had never stood on the podium in an Olympic road race.
The Dutch cyclist had finished second so many times, she wasn't about to let Armitstead and Zabelinskaya ruin one more day.
"It was a hard race today with the weather conditions," Vos said, "but then I felt good. We made the race hard with the Dutch squad, early attacks, and that was the plan."
It worked perfectly.
Armitstead's silver medal should serve to buoy cycling fans in Britain. They came out Saturday expecting to see Mark Cavendish win the men's road race, but the powerhouse British team that includes Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins finished with a whimper.
"Marianne Vos was the one to watch and I knew that before the race," Armitstead said. "I played my tactics and thankfully it came off."
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.