Netherlands' Marianne Vos (L) reacts as she crosses the finish line ahead of Britain's Elizabeth Armitstead to win the women's cycling road race final at the London 2012 Olympic Games July 29, 2012.
Foto: Paul Hanna / Reuters
Dutchwoman Marianne Vos put years of frustration behind her when she claimed the gold medal in the Olympic cycling road race, dashing Britain's hopes of a first home victory of the Games in driving rain on Sunday.
Vos, runner-up at the last five road race world championships following her 2006 win, outsprinted breakaway companion Lizzie Armitstead who at least earned the hosts their first medal of the London Olympics with a silver as rain poured down on The Mall.
"The Olympics is different than the world championships. I knew it was a different race," Vos told a news conference.
"You don't have to think about the years before."
Russian Olga Zabelinskaya, also in the breakaway, took third place at the end of a 140.3-km ride starting and ending in central London.
"I'm so glad I committed to that break," Armitstead told reporters.
"We saw the men's race. Once you've got a committed group it's hard to get them back so I went with it.
"I should have just jumped her there. Marianne was the one to watch so I was following her around.
"I'm so happy we got the ball rolling for Team GB," she added, shivering with cold.
Defending champion Nicole Cook of Britain, however, did not have enough energy this time as she sometimes struggled to keep up with the fierce pace set by Vos despite the poor conditions.
The race started in the sun but threatening clouds rapidly gathered over the riders' heads and the rain poured down again and again.
Spectators at the finish line regularly ran for shelter, came back to enjoy the sun in between showers and were then forced to open their umbrellas again.
"When the downpour came I thought 'this is great for the British riders'," said Armitstead.
Four riders were left to contest the three medals when Vos, Armitstead, Zabelinskaya and American Shelley Olds powered away from the main bunch after the second and last climb of Box Hill.
"We knew Lizzie was in form, we knew I was in form and Emma (Pooley) was going well so we didn't have the all-out sprinter, we wanted to get someone in the break and that's what we did," said Cooke, her face covered with mud.
Italy, Sweden and Germany, looking to bring their leaders back into the picture, took turns at the front of the peloton but the leading four collaborated well to build a decent gap.
Olds's hopes, however, vanished when she suffered a puncture with 25 kilometers to go.
Vos, the 2008 points race Olympic champion on the track, timed her final effort to perfection as she surged past Zabelinskaya in the final straight and Armitstead was slightly too slow to latch on to her wheel.
All day long, Vos and Briton Emma Pooley tried to shake the peloton with brutal accelerations and it eventually paid off for the Dutch rider.
Armitstead, who was expected to be Britain's main asset in a mass sprint, managed to slip into the decisive break.
"She rode the perfect race, it was a magnificent performance - she just didn't have the legs at the end," said Team GB director of performance David Brailsford.
"She took the risk and it paid off - credit to her," he added.
Credit to Vos, too, as she was the most aggressive rider on Sunday, working tirelessly to build the gap over the chasing pack.
"She's a worthy Olympic champion," said Brailsford.
Vos, a five-time cyclo-cross world champion, arrived in London in ominous form, having won five of the nine stages en route to overall victory in the Giro Donne, the women's version of the Giro d'Italia, this month.
(Editing by Mark Meadows and Alison Wildey)
Reuters - Reuters content is the intellectual property of Thomson Reuters or its third party content providers. Any copying, republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.