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An interview with Judith Arndt, April 8, 2008
From Flanders to Beijing
Team High Road's Judith Arndt is one of the most experienced members of the women's peloton. Nevertheless, victory in this weekend's fifth edition of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen for women was celebrated as if it was her first. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins spoke to the German former World champion on the morning after her Classic win to discuss her success, her team, and her goals for the rest of her season.
The Ronde Van Vlaanderen is one of the five Monuments of one day cycling in the men's calendar and, despite its short history; the women's peloton holds victory in the race in the same high regard. It is still almost surprising though, that a rider with the experience of Judith Arndt, with victories that include last year's Thüringen-Rundfahrt and the 2004 World championships, should be so excited by her victory this week.
"It's like you say: it's a monument in cycling," she enthused, "and ja, to win this race, it's like winning the World Championships."
This is something that Arndt can speak with authority about, having taken the rainbow jersey in the road race in Verona in 2004. "It's the same, really," she continued, "because you have to be as fit as it gets and you need a really strong team and you need a lot of luck as well, and if everything falls together then you might be the winner. Really, it's like a dream."
Talk of World championships and luck briefly takes the conversation back in time to Stuttgart last autumn where a collapsed barrier cost Arndt - and a number of other favourites - the chance of being able to contest the finish with the likes of winner Marta Bastianelli. She remains quite philosophical on the subject though: "Yeah well," she said, "you know its [bad] luck but also sometimes you are always up at the wrong places... I don't know if it's luck - it's your own fault also, it's not always unlucky."
Returning to the weekend's Ronde victory: the whole race seemed to come together as a masterly display of team riding (from both High Road and Cervelo Lifeforce, but with High Road coming out on top). They managed to place riders in all the main breaks, and as well as Arndt's victory, team-mate Oenone Wood finished in fourth place. This kind of thing does not happen by chance though, but has to be planned well in advance.
"In the team meeting the day before," explained Arndt, "we said we want to be aggressive during the race, because a lot of times during this year we were always in the position that we had to chase, or we were always having to react. So in this race we wanted to act and we wanted the other teams to chase, to work.
"So, the first breakaway we had Chantal Beltman in already and then Luise Keller could go across so that was the perfect situation for us. Then, Oenone and me and all the others could just sit in the bunch and save up as much as it gets."
Placing riders in the breaks is one thing, making that work to your advantage and take a positive result out of the situation is another. Again, the High Road plan came together as the latter stages of the race unfolded. The Muur-Kapelmuur and the Bosberg have so often proved decisive in the men's Ronde, and so it follows that this point can also be a critical phase for the women. The former World champion continued:
"Then, when we came to Geraardsbergen, Nicole Cooke attacked and I could stay with her and immediately we could get across to the five that was remaining of the breakaway. Then Oenone came with another small group from behind, and then of course it was pretty much clear that we had to attack and get away because we were three of us in the breakaway - and Cervelo as well - and I thought that would be happening then."
Having such a numerical advantage over all but Cervelo-Lifeforce at such a late stage meant that High Road had chance to play their cards. Particularly the presence of both Arndt and Wood - two of High Road's strongest riders - would mean that the other teams would be forced to chase attacks from one to the advantage of the other. As it turned out though, the final attack consisted of a member of each of the two well represented teams, effectively neutralising any efforts to bring them back by the rest of the breakaway group.
"Then we got away - [Kristin] Armstrong and me - and I was pretty confident that I could beat her," she said, "but you never know, sometimes you're in the finish straight and all of a sudden you get cramp or something; that can always happen."
"Ja, but it was good!" she adds with a laugh.
The chasing pack finished just twenty-one seconds behind Arndt and Armstrong with Wood taking second in the sprint - and fourth place. The first thing to happen, before anyone could approach either rider, was that the two of them clutched each other in a massive embrace. This, a sure indication that high Road is a team that rides together, for each other, and each victory for the individual rider is enjoyed collectively by everyone.
"Always," she agreed. "It's such a team event. I think it's hard to explain to people that are not so into cycling, what it actually means to work together as a team. They don't know how it feels to ride in the wind, or to ride in the wheel of somebody and save your strength."
"It's a team victory always," she continued, "and it's always the best thing that if you win you can celebrate together, and it's not only yourself who's happy. Yesterday, it was really because everybody could help; everybody was able to do their job, so that's a perfect thing. And the team will win."
So following that to its logical conclusion; despite the fact that the roll of honour names Judith Arndt as the winner, should it really say ‘Judith Arndt, Chantal Beltman, Luise Keller, Katherine Bates, Linda Villumsen Serup and Oenone Wood'?
"Exactly," she agrees with a laugh, "they should all come to the podium!"
"I do the World Cups," says Arndt in response to a question about next week's Ronde Van Drenthe. However, like many of her main rivals she won't be deliberately targeting the overall jersey - currently held by Nürnberger Versicherung rider Suzanne De Goede. Her reasons are the same as we hear from many riders in the women's peloton this year: "Not this year," she says of the overall competition, "because this year we have the Olympics, that's the highlight. I think it is [the same] for everyone, the highlight," she laughs.
Like many, she is aiming to be on top form come the Olympic Games in August. However, Judith Arndt does not have the luxury of being able to ignore all other results on the way. "I try [to peak for the Olympics], but you know, I'm a professional bike rider for Team High Road, so every race I do I will give everything for the team. But in the back of my head, I want to be fit for the Olympics, and I hope that with the win yesterday, I hope that I have made a big step towards qualifying for [Beijing]."
Beyond the Olympic Games this summer is the matter of the World championships in Varese, Italy. For a former champion, the prospect of a second rainbow jersey is always a possibility, but Arndt is keen to just look at one target at a time. "That's also a goal of course," she admits, "but first the Olympics. First, all the jobs I have to do for High Road, then the Olympics if I get qualified, and then of course the Worlds are always a nice thing."
Judith Arndt's golden season was in 2004, when she took the overall World Cup, the World championships and silver in the Olympic road race. Four years on, it would be no great surprise to see her repeat or better at least one of these.