Marianne Vos wins gold in road race
LONDON -- Marianne Vos of the Netherlands won the gold medal in the women's road race Sunday in a rain-drenched sprint, leaving Britain's Elizabeth Armitstead with silver and the home country's first medal of the London Olympics.
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Vos, the former world champion, made a daring move past Russia's Olga Zabelinskaya to emerge from the three-rider breakaway. She powered past a small group of fans waving the Dutch flag, then raised her arms in triumph as she crossed the finish line.
Zabelinskaya won bronze after a frantic finish through a driving rain that was reminiscent of four years ago in Beijing, when Britain's Nicole Cook pulled away late to win gold.
"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."
Worked to perfection.
Nobody could blame Vos for the scream she let loose at the finish.
A former Olympic gold medalist in track cycling, Vos had grown accustomed 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.
Perhaps fittingly, the clouds broke and the sun shone for the medal ceremony.
"She is a machine," Zabelinskaya said, "and the rest of us are not yet at this high level."
Armitstead accepted the silver medal to cheers from her home crowd, delivering the podium finish that eluded Mark Cavendish and his teammates on the powerhouse men's team the previous day.
While the crowds that turned out didn't nearly reach the estimated 1 million fans who watched Saturday, they were still packed deep along the 87-mile route.
The riders started off on the Mall during one of one of the many showers that plagued the entire race, passing by Buckingham Palace and heading south of London.
Estonian rider Grete Treier was among several riders who crashed on the narrow, slick roads of London early in the race. There were also a number of punctures, including one that slowed reigning time trial silver medalist Emma Pooley of Britain.
Ellen van Dijk, the national time trial champion from the Netherlands, spent the first half of the race trying to open up gaps on the field. Every time she bounced off the front, though, a handful of riders were positioned right behind with orders to bring her back.
Just as in the men's race, Box Hill was where the race took shape.
The first of two trips up the punchy climb in the Surrey countryside broke the field into two groups. One of the riders dropped was Cooke, the defending gold medalist, who managed to race back to the peloton but was spent by the time the riders started up the climb again.
Reigning time trial gold medalist Kristin Armstrong of the United States crashed at the bottom of Box Hill, hampering the chances of the American team in the run-up to the finish.
Vos made her first big move on the final climb and was quickly joined by Armitstead. They went clear along with Sweden's Emma Johansson and American rider Shelley Olds, the group of four riders reaching more than 40 mph on the quick downhill.
Their gap was 18 seconds with about 25 miles remaining, and working together the trio managed to extend their advantage as another round of rain pounded the course.
Olds dropped away after puncturing her tire at the most inopportune of times, and the three riders remaining in the break carried on. 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 gave chase.
The wet roads didn't help their cause.
Every rider who moved to the front had to slow dramatically around the city's tight, narrow corners, and their lost momentum allowed the breakaway to build on its lead.
It reached 53 seconds as crowds choked the run-in to Buckingham Palace, and by that point it was clear the race would be decided among the three. Vos began her sprint with the finish line in sight, and Armitstead didn't have enough left to chase her down.
"With three, you know you have to keep on pushing to the finish, because it was our biggest chance for gold, or for a medal," Vos said. "I knew Lizzie was fast on the line, so I was not dead-on confident, but I knew I had a chance, and I knew I had a big chance."
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press
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