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Olympic news for October 1
Time trial wrapup: a tight finale
By Jeff Jones
There were a few surprises at both races that concluded cycling at the Olympic Games yesterday. Time trials are called "the race of truth" - one rider against the clock and the elements. Tactics, which are a big part of road racing, count for nothing. The strongest and most aerodynamic rider usually wins.
Most expected yesterday's women's race to be a battle for silver, after the form that Dutchwoman Leontien Van Moorsel has shown throughout these games. She finished with three gold and one silver medal, more than any other cyclist has one in a single Olympics, and more than her swimming compatriot, Inge de Bruijn in Sydney. Unfortunately, the Dutch men's team could not come near to matching her, and the Netherlands finished second in the cycling medal tally to France.
The silver medallist in the women's race was a little more of a surprise, the US time trial champion Mari Holden. She beat the likes of defending champion Zulfia Zabirova (Rus), Lithuanian World Champions, Diana Ziliute and Edita Pucinskaite, German powerhouse, Hanka Kupfernagel, Tour de France and Giro d'Italia winner, Joane Somarriba, multiple French and World Champion, Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli, Australian Champion, Anna Wilson and Canadian Champion, Clara Hughes. They were all here, and all trying to win.
Still, Holden is a noted time trial specialist and this combined with her criterium skills helped her around the course in 42:37, just 37 seconds off Van Moorsel's pace. After her disappointment in the road race, where she had three wheel changes and a crash, a good result in the time trial was a major goal of her year accomplished.
"I had been visualizing this race the whole year. I kept thinking if I have a great day, I could get a medal. I think that maybe I was the only one who believed that besides my boyfriend. It worked out today. I can't believe it," she said.
Third placed Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli was another who had a disappointing road race, and had her sights set on a medal in the time trial. In the end, she came from behind to beat Anna Wilson into fourth to win the bronze.
"It is a medal of a different colour - it will look nice on my dining room table," she said afterwards. Sydney was her fifth Olympic games, and she now has a medal of each colour in her collection.
Is it the 41 year old's last Olympics? "The Olympic Games in 2004 is in Athens and I don't like the pollution," was all she would admit.
If the women's time trial produced a few surprises, then the men's race totally floored everyone who thought the gold would go to Lance Armstrong or Jan Ullrich. Many had predicted that Armstrong would win it, although he was certain to be pushed to the limit by the in-form Jan Ullrich. Not many predicted that Ekimov could produce the ride of his life to upstage both of them, despite the Russian's excellent credentials against the clock.
Ekimov started in the second wave, and may have had a slight advantage over the last group as the wind was not quite as strong. Nevertheless, it was still blowing as the Russian propelled himself around the 46.8 km course at an average of 48.69 km/h. However, there were were going to be no 50+ km/h rides on the day, as the tailwind sections were diminished by the trees that sheltered Centennial Park.
Jan Ullrich was the only one who was close enough on the last lap to nail the Russian, holding a six second advantage at the second last time check. He lost 14 seconds on the final stretch though to finish eight seconds behind "Slava" Ekimov. Lance Armstrong was in contention on the last lap as well, although he was a couple of seconds behind the German. He lost even more time on the run in, especially in the final 7.5 kilometres, putting him in the bronze position.
Armstrong's words were honest at the end - he rode well, but didn't win. "I came to win the gold medal, but I did everything that I could. I went as hard as I could. My heart rate was pegged the whole time. I could not have gone any harder. When you prepare for an event, you come, and you do your best and you don't win, you have to say 'I didn't deserve to win.' If I had had a problem or didn't feel good, that would be one thing. But, I felt good, I went as hard as I could, and I got third," he said.
"If I said I wasn't surprised, I'd be lying but Eki is a time trialist both on the track and on the road. He is on my team, we are great friends and he's a legend of our sport. As upset as I am not to win a gold medal, I am that much happier for him to win one," he added.
It also meant that Armstrong's Olympic dream of Gold might be over, as he is not looking forward to Athens. However, things change and we may even see him line up in Plouay in under two weeks time.
Ekimov is a renowned time trialist, and has been for 15 years. He has won four World Championships in the individual pursuit (three as an amateur, one as a professional), in addition to winning the World Championship points race in 1991. He also won gold in the team pursuit in 1988 in Seoul, and held the World Hour Record as an amateur in 1986 (49.67 km). He holds a number of time trial victories on the road but this is arguably his biggest, coming towards the end of an 11 year career that has seen him win 46 races. Again, to beat a motivated Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich, not to mention the rest of the field, is not bad going.
Nobody was more surprised than Ekimov himself, as he waited for the final wave to post their times. "I really did not expect such a performance. I was really quite nervous when watching the last riders. I hoped that I could finish in the top five, but this is just extraordinary," he said.
Then there was Jan Ullrich, who finished in the silver position by an agonising margin of 8 seconds. Although he won the battle against Armstrong, he lost it against the wind and Ekimov and a potential double gold slipped from his grasp in the final stretch.
"I did not count on him [Ekimov] to win the Olympics," admitted Ullrich afterwards. "It is hard, but silver is also nice." Ullrich will now dispute the World Championships in Plouay, but there will be no possibility of revenge against Ekimov, who will stay in Australia for a holiday. He might come up against a more motivated Armstrong though.
Palmares of Viatcheslav Ekimov
Born: February 4,
1966 in Vyborg, Russia
Major wins (46 in total):
Stage Tour Mèditerranèen
Stage Criterium International
Stage Setmana Catalana
Clasica Costa de Almeria
Vuelta a la Comunidad
Valenciana (1 stage win)
Stage Tour DuPont
Stage Vuelta a la
Stage Prudential Tour
Stage Vuelta al Tachira
Driedaagse van De
Panne (1 stage win)
Olano and Jalabert
Finishing just out of the medals were Spaniard Abraham Olano and Frenchman Laurent Jalabert. Both of whom are top time trialists but again were not at their best on the day. Olano missed out by 17 seconds on taking bronze, but said that he was satisfied by the result.
"It is a shame about the position," he said afterwards. "In any case I feel satisfied by the result because I tried my best. Obviously, I would have liked to be on the podium, but in the end it wasn't to be. I was not at 100 percent for these Games."
Olano certainly didn't count out Ekimov, nor Jalabert who finished just behind him. "He was like me and hasn't come in his best form," said Olano.
Jalabert's words were similar, "Fifth was good, but it is not a medal. I am lacking a little form and competition. It's a shame because the course suited me," he said. However, he improved significantly from two weeks ago, when he was beaten by four minutes by Lance Armstrong in the Grand Prix des Nations. Yesterday, it was only 30 seconds.
Jalabert will not contest the World Championships in Plouay, where he is certainly a favourite given his rising form at the moment. However, the estranged Frenchman still hasn't found a team for next year, despite being in negotiations with several. La Francaise des Jeux was one, but they could not reach an agreement. Bonjour is another, but this is unconfirmed.
He indicated that he would like to finish his career with a division I team, in order to be able to contest the classics.