Simply put, you would be hard pressed to find a more exciting day of bicycle racing. Both women’s and men’s Olympic Time Trials were not decided until the final riders were through the finish line.
The day was hot and muggy and threatened rain. The course, which usually experiences strong steady winds, was windy in the morning, but began to taper as the day wore on. The women, who were doing one loop of the BaDaLing Road Circuit (23+KM) started at 11:30 and went off at 2 minute intervals. The time trail, often called the race of truth, is an individual test against the clock, as opposed to a normal road race, which is a mass start race. An early time set by Emma Pooley of Great Britain held for most of the day. The course was very selective and many riders who are normally seen to be strong performers in the time trial discipline proved no match for this course. It took a special blend of climbing ability and raw power to master the BaDaLing Olympic course. Kristin Armstrong started strong, but was slightly off the leading pace at the mid-race time check. However, her power and ability to descend proved enough to carry her into first place. It was clear with several riders yet to finish that she had gold in the bag. However, Christine Thorburn, who went off second to last, was very close to making the 3rd place podium slot. As she came to the line it was obvious it would be close. Unfortunately, she was just outside the time of 3rd place Thurig from Switzerland and 4th set by 49 yr old Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli. Although disappointing to miss out on 2 medals in one race it was very exciting to see Kristin win her medal. Kristin’s medal marks the first US women’s Olympic medal since Connie Carpenter in 1984.
The men, who were scheduled to do two laps of the circuit, went off at 1min 30second intervals in 3 groups. Once one group had all gone off, there was a gap of 40 minutes and then the next group went off. Trek riders Levi Leipheimer and Giro winner Alberto Contador were both in the last group, which comprised most of the race favorites. Sven Tufts from Canada, an early starter, held the top spot throughout most of the race. When Samuel Sanchez, Gold Medalist from Saturday’s road race went through the first time check, a new fastest time was set. This time was just missed by Larsson from Sweden as well as by Levi Leipheimer. However, Contador crushed that split time by more then 17 seconds and looked to be on a gold medal winning time. Cancellara, current world time trial champion, was off the time at the top of the climb, but used his power to come through the mid-race time check the fastest rider. At the top of the second lap climb and with only 11+km to go, Levi was in 5th place. While Cadel Evans was holding steady, Levi’s Astana teammate Contador appeared to be falling apart. It was all going to come down to who could ride downhill the fastest. Levi came to the line in 2nd place, but with Contador, Evans and Cancellara still to come. It seemed clear that barring any unforeseen accident or mishap Cancellara would end up somewhere on the podium, but it was too close to call for 3rd place. It was not until the last 30-40 meters of both Contador and Evans’ ride that they were found to be outside Levi’s time for third place. What a great result for USA Cycling and Trek Bikes. When asked by Trek China General Manager Todd McKean what the last 11-12km were like, Levi said, “I knew at the top I had a chance against Contador because I could see he was steadily slowing down, however, I did not know how I was going to be against Cadel. I felt a little tired at the top, but as I came down the descent on the highway I kept feeling better and better. It was really in the last 500meters that I felt my best and that is where I am sure I got back the time I needed to win third.”
A fine end to a wonderful day was found at the Lan Club…a very hip and happening dinner spot in Beijing. What better spot to host a celebration party for the two USA Cycling medalists. In fact, if anyone doubted whether or not this was really an “A” ticket dinner spot, those doubts were dismissed when the group ran into Cindy Crawford at the bar. Cindy was very excited to have her picture taken with Kristin and Levi…apparently even stars are impressed by medal winners!
Tomorrow is a day off for cycling, but Friday the 15th is the kick off for all track cycling events.