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28th Olympic Games - JO

Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004

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August 15: Women's road race, 118.8km

Select band of favourites to make the running

Britain's Nicole Cooke (left) is a hot favourite
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With the reigning Olympic champion concentrating on the track this year, the women's road race will be a talent-packed battle of the giants. Kristy Scrymgeour looks at the contenders.

The second cycling event of the 2004 Games is the women's road race. Over the same 13.2km course as the men, the women race nine laps for a total of 118.8km and will start at 11am in the hottest part of the day.

This week the riders have been training over the challenging course which is hilly and technical consisting of a short section of uphill pave and lots of tight corners. The days have been hot hitting 40 degrees (100 degrees Fahrenheit) but the predicted smog has not been evident. According to a local who was on the course today, the city does experience some very bad smog occasionally, but this week it has been very clear.

The women's race, like the men's is very likely to produce a small group of the top riders at the end due to the difficulty of the terrain, with attrition likely to split things up over the nine laps. 2000 winner, Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel is back to defend all three of her titles beginning with the road race and can never be counted out, though with her focus being specifically on the track this year and the road course being very difficult, she is likely to considered less of a favourite. Her teammate however, Mirjam Melchers is in good form this year and is an excellent one day rider.

Lyne Bessette (Canada)
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Perhaps the rider to beat on Sunday is Britain's Nicole Cooke, who after a slow start to the season due to injury, is back in her characteristic fighting form. The course suits her perfectly with its tough climbs and technical aspects and he is also a very good rider under pressure.

Coming up against her will be Zoulfia Zabirova (Russia) who has taken two World Cup wins this year and has shown very consistent good form of late. She is dangerous on a hard course and famous for the timely late breakaway. She is also one to watch in the time trial. Also a contender is current world champion Suzanne Ljungskog. She is a smart one-day rider who has based this year on focusing for the Olympic road race and has the mental advantage of winning the last two world championship races.

With only 67 riders in the field, the Olympic road race is unique in that with a maximum of three riders per nation the tactics have to be a little different. In previous years, this fact has produced races that tend to be a little bit restrained and slightly uneventful with teams fearing to waste the energies of so few team members too early. Things have changed however in recent years in women's cycling and this year the race is bound to be more aggressive. It is also an unusual event in that often riders are joining their compatriots for the first time in the year to race in a team, having spent the majority of the year in their professional trade teams.

Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel
Photo ©: Russell Standring
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In Sydney in 2000, Van Moorsel won the event on the one day of the Olympics that had rain. The race saw a few riders attack early such as Ina Teutenberg and Pia Sundstedt, and some attrition causing the numbers in the bunch to shrink a little, but in the end it came down to a field sprint with Van Moorsel coming out on top with the help of her teammate Melchers.

Oenone Wood winning the Geelong Women's World Cup in February
Photo: © John Veage
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Bringing strong teams to the event are Australia and Germany. Australia boasts the current world cup leader Oenone Wood and has the advantage of fielding a team made up of three riders who have been riding together all year. Wood has had a very successful year, her string of success beginning way back in January with a double national championship win in both the road race and the time trial. She has proven this year that she can hang with the best on the climbs and in the sprints and is perhaps the fastest finisher along with Melchers at the end of a long day of hard climbs.

Judith Arndt winning a stage of the Grand Boucle Féminine in 2003
Photo ©: AFP
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Germany has both Judith Arndt and Trixi Worrack, who have worked closely together this year in Nurnberger. Both have consistently placed in World Cup races over the past couple of years, with Worrack having perhaps her best result of her career this year with a win in the women's 12 day Tour de l'Aude in France. Rounding off their team is Angela Brodtka who has proven herself this year with her very fast finish. If the race comes down to a bunch sprint, she will be up amongst it.

Although a bunch sprint is unlikely, riders such as Anita Valen (Norway), who can also get over the climbs on a good day, could also be one to watch.

Dede Barry (left) with US Olympic team-mates Kristin Armstrong and Christine Thorburn - plus men's team rider Jason McCartney
Photo: © Russ & Nancy Wright
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Coming from North America the US team can feel relatively confident of having a good day, with Dede Barry coming off a win in last weekend's Sparkassen Giro Bochum. She will be joined by two relatively new riders to the sport, Kristin Armstrong and national time trial champion Christine Thorburn, with Thorburn riding the time trial on Wednesday.

Of course one rider we can never count out is Frenchwoman Jeanie Longo, who has a knack of coming out to the big races and making a timely move as she proved last year at the Hamilton World Championships, almost holding off the bunch for the win. Again, she is strong this year and riders will be aiming not to make the mistake of letting her get away this time.

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