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Olympic news for September 27
Weather update and final preview
By Jeff Jones, online editor
Today should see a slightly better day to accompany the riders on their 14 lap, 240 kilometre journey around the Eastern Suburbs. Showers are predicted and it is raining two hours before the start, although a maximum temperature of 21 is forecast. The wind will vary throughout the day, although yesterday it was mainly from the south, ending up in a tailwind sprint. Relative humidity will be between 60 and 90 percent.
The rain could play a part today, as it tends to 'dampen' the enthusiasm of a lot of riders. For example, the US team has a balance of sprinters (Hincapie, Cruz and Rodriguez) and will be working with the other like minded teams (Australians, Germans, Dutch, British and Spanish) to keep the race together. On the other hand, the Italians, French, Belgians, Russians and Swiss should be trying to break it up on the climbs.
Many teams have selected a breakaway rider, e.g. Henk Vogels (Aus), Erik Dekker (Ned), Michele Bartoli (Ita), Max Sciandri (GBr), Jens Voigt (Ger), Nico Mattan (Bel), and Oscar Camenzind (Swi), but with only five man teams allowed, no one team will be able to really control the race.
If the pace is high early, then this will set the race up for attacks and a general breakup later on. On the other hand, if the riders choose to take it easy for the first half as they did yesterday, then we could see a comparatively large field by the finish. In this case, riders like Erik Zabel (Ger), Markus Zberg (Swi), Jaan Kirsipuu (Est), Leon Van Bon (Ned), Zbigniew Spruch (Pol), Dmitri Konychev (Rus), Robert Hunter (RSA), Oscar Freire (Spa), or Fred Rodriguez (USA) could have a gold medal around their necks at the finish.
Of course, cyclingnews.com will be providing up to the minute live coverage, complete with picture updates as the race progresses. Coverage starts 10:00 Sydney time (ESST), 19:00 US EDT, and 1:00 European time. The race should be approximately six hours.
US team taken for a ride
While the 57 female competitors were testing out the course under race conditions yesterday, the men were looking to do a last minute spin before today's 240 km effort. With many having travelled to Sydney in the past few days from their out-of-town training bases, they were seeking a few pointers as to where to train without getting hit by a bus.
A certain US team (not the one that was competing in the women's race) asked for a few directions getting out of the CBD. Cyclingnews.com staff, in conjunction with Rob, a bike savvy policeman from Manly, were happy to provide these and more, as we accompanied Lance, Antonio, Tyler, George, Jim and Fred on a two hour cruise around Watson's Bay and the Eastern beaches.
Sydney's traffic can be a pain to negotiate, however with someone in a blue jersey holding up traffic for you it is childishly simple. Our route took us out through the more well-heeled Eastern suburbs along William St, into New South Head Rd and up Heartbreak Hill. After a short stop to admire the view, we headed down Military Rd and along Bondi Beach. No beach volleyballers got in our way as we made our way up the other side, eventually managing to catch a glimpse of the women's race as they headed down Bronte hill.
The way back saw the rain start - a marked difference from the 33 degree temperatures the team enjoyed in Brisbane a few days ago. No matter, as director Jim Ochowicz said of the forecast, "We like the rain. Rain is good."
The team seemed reasonably relaxed about the race today as they tested out their radios and went through other pre-race checks on the road. They, along with the rest of the peloton, will be doing the race without the benefit of a team car, as the caravan will be limited to a few neutral spares vehicles. This came as a little surprise because one of the reasons the course was reversed was to reduce the danger for following cars. A quick bike change for example will be quite tough, and this was experienced yesterday by the US team, who had appalling luck all day.
We made it back to the team's hotel intact, although one of us was the worse for wear after averaging an hour a week's training. Despite our best efforts to wear them out over the hills, they seemed unperturbed strangely enough. The next question was, "How can I get one of those blue jerseys?"
Sørensen likes his chances
Danish veteran, Rolf Sørensen, winner of the silver medal in Atlanta, is optimistic about his chances on the road in Sydney. Sørensen told Danish daily Politiken, "If I were to lay out the route myself it would look more or less like this one, so that's perfect. Compared to the route in Atlanta there is a slightly larger hill this time and that's fine with me. I expect a race where the peloton will pretty much stick together for a long time despite many breaks."
"I'm counting on that we will be able to get half-way through the race before the definitive break gets away, but then things will get serious and that's where I have to be up front. It's a chance to take, as some of the strong riders can get away earlier, but you've got to take chances in a race like this. I'm not a favourite - a lot has happened in the four years since Atlanta - but I'm an outsider who a lot of riders will be keeping an eye on."
Sørensen has negotiated a contract with Danish team Memorycard for next year, after being with Rabobank for several years.
Courtesy of Jon Jay Neufeld
The Olympic atmosphere in the Belgian team is sadly lacking, after they made their base about 100 kilometres from the Olympic Village for training purposes. One of their main hopes, Peter van Petegem describes it as "A kermesse race. Fourteen laps and a little climb. There will constantly be jumps and you can't control the race with five men."
It may be a criterium to him, but it's worth 400 UCI points, the same as a World Championship. Van Petegem needs a good result in the latter half of the season to call it a good year. "I should be happier about the non-selecting nature of this parcours. Because I wasn't selected for the Vuelta and - because of illness - I couldn't go to Poland, I did my preparation on the kermesse circuit in Belgium. Five races around the church and all five times I was in the top 3."
Coach Jose de Cauwer confirms that Van Petegem is the biggest favourite for the Belgians. But he first has to build his credit to be leader. "We still have Axel Merckx and Nico Mattan."
Women's race a wet and tame affair
Yesterday's 120 kilometre Olympic women's road race turned out to be a lot tamer than it promised, as 57 of the world's best riders chose to ride hard, but not flat out for the first four laps of the race. By the finish, 28 were in the leading group including most, but not all the world's best sprinters. The German team lost Ina Yoko-Teutenberg and Petra Rossner, and they could have done with the latter's talents as the field sped up Driver Avenue for the last time. Leontien may have been too fast for any of them, and Hanka Kupfernagel looked delighted with the silver.
"This is my best ever race result and really good preparation for the time trial on Saturday. I was watching Leontien in the finale, and that was a good choice. But she was too strong in the last few meters," said the German.
Van Moorsel was still trying to downplay her obvious peak form, "Without the persuasion of Michael and Poppeltje, I wouldn't be standing on the podium. Training after the track, I was completely dead after 20 kilometers. Today I rode the first laps purely on reserves. I really didn't count on this result." Despite never being at the front until the race finished, Leontien never looked in any real danger as the race headed towards a bunch sprint.
"Without the team this result wasn't possible. I couldn't realize this on my own and Mirjam and Chantal deserve a part of the gold medal too, and coach Van Poppel and my husband too."
"Melchers did a perfect job. I gained much morale when Rossner couldn't follow. With my senses down to zero I gave everything I had," said Van Moorsel, who will split her gold medal premium (85,000 guilders, $US 40,000) with Melchers and Beltman.
Jean-Paul Van Poppel added that "Unity was the key to success. We came here with one target: a gold medal. Melchers was allowed to go for her own chances, but I made it clear that Leontien alone could win a medal in a sprint."
Mirjam Melchers, who celebrated her 25th birthday on the day of the race, would have loved to win, but realised her role. "Of course you want to win personally. But I knew that only Leontien could win in the sprint. Better gold for her than silver or bronze for me."
The disappointment on Anna Wilson's normally cheerful face was obvious after she finished fourth yesterday. She and the team had been planning for this race for the last four years, and in the meantime she has established herself as the number two cyclist in the world, with some time spent in the top position.
"It's got to be the worst finish in the world," said Wilson. "I'm really surprised there was such a big bunch at the finish. We didn't ride as hard in the first three laps as we could have."
Teammate Tracey Gaudry echoed the words, "we were looking to do some damage in the second half of the race but riders had more fuel left in the tank than we expected."
The price you pay for a bunch sprint is that any one of a handful of riders can win, especially if half the field is left to contest it at the end. Wilson started the sprint in a fairly good position near the front, although she was not entirely sheltered from the win. When she started to come round with 300 metres to go, she couldn't make any headway on the three in front of her.
Apart from that, she rode a good race, always near the front and in no danger of crashing with her fine handling skills. In the end, it was not to be and the team will look to the time trial on Saturday with two riders quite capable of making the podium.
The third member of the team, Juanita Feldhahn was more positive at the finish. She was absolutely delighted with being in the bunch at the end, crediting the crowd for helping her up the last hill. "Just to represent Australia at the Olympics is good," she said.
Longo blames the rain
Defending Olympic champion, Jeannie Longo (41) was not able to make an impression in the race, finishing 26th a few seconds off the back of the leaders. The hardened Frenchwoman blamed the weather conditions on her poor showing, saying that she decided at the last minute not to wear too much because the sun had started to come out.
However, that didn't last long and the rain came down, prompting Longo to call it "the worst weather I have ever had during the Olympics. I was strong but the cold wore out my reserves."
Despite her illustrious career, Longo has only a silver and a gold medal in the Olympic Games. She was overtaken by Van Moorsel in more ways than one today, as the Dutchwoman now has two gold and one silver, with the promise of another medal on Saturday.
Longo will go into the time trial on Saturday with renewed hope, as the forecast is for sun and warm temperatures. "I've prepared well for the time trial," she said.