With a medal in their grasp, the United States Olympic women’s cycling team suffered untimely bad luck on Sunday as Shelley Olds (Gilroy, Calif./AA Drink-Leontien) experienced a flat in the home stretch and finished seventh. With Team USA riding strong on the front all day, Olds was springboarded into what would be the winning move on the descent to the finish on the famed London Mall.
“I’m really devastated because I believe I definitely could have medaled,” said Olds. “That was the winning move and I was in it.”
Early action was quiet as the rain poured on the peloton on the 55-kilometer trek out of the city to Box Hill. The skies parted a bit just before the small, 66-member women’s field reached the first of two 15.5-kilometer circuits around Box Hill. The American ladies, along with the Dutch, began to light things up with action on the front as the rain held off. Americans Kristin Armstrong (Boise, Idaho/Exergy TWENTY12) and Amber Neben (Irvine, Calif./Specialized-lululemon) controlled the front of what became a very animated race along with Great Britain’s Nicole Cooke and a cast of other favorites.
Just as the ladies began to head back from Box Hill, Olds, with the help of teammate Evelyn Stevens (Acton, Mass./Specialized-lululemon), jumped into a powerful break group with Elizabeth Armitstead (GBR), multi-time world champion Marianne Vos (NED) and Olga Zabelinskaya (RUS). The rain began pelting the leaders as they grew a 40 second gap on the main group, which included all three of the remaining Americans.
“I was on (Marianne) Vos’ wheel after the descent there was a little climb,” explained Olds. “I knew she was going to attack there; I could feel it. I was on her wheel and she attacked really hard and I followed. It was me, her, Lizzie Armitstead and Olga Zabelinskaya and we started to ride right away. I knew it was the winning move.”
Olds then suddenly fell back off the leaders with an untimely flat.
“Shortly after that, I had a front flat. That’s just bike racing. I had to stop and wait for a wheel change.”
She nearly missed the peloton after a time consuming wheel change before her American teammates dropped back to bring her up. With approximately 30 kilometers remaining the Americans returned to the front of the pack, this time determined to pull the break back. With three strong teams represented in the break, most of the work was left to the Germans, Italians and Americans and they just didn’t have enough to reel in the leaders before the iconic finish stretch in front of Buckingham Palace.
“For us, that was the move we wanted,” explained Stevens. “We had Germany chasing, so if it was caught, we were going to go again. Unfortunately, I looked up and saw Shelley on the right and that changed the plan. If you watch it, we get back to the front and by that point we had to start to try chasing that down.”
The winning group of Vos, Armistead and Zabelinskaya, who finished first, second and third, respectively, crossed the finish line just 27 seconds ahead of the lead chasers, including Olds who sprinted to seventh despite her time in the break. Stevens finished 24th, Armstrong 35th and Neben 36th.
Olds’ seventh-place is the best U.S. finish in women’s road race since Jeanne Golay placed 6th in 1992 (Barcelona).
Next up at the Olympic Games for USA Cycling are the men’s and women’s time trials on Wednesday, Aug. 1 beginning at 12:30 p.m. local London time.
Women’s Olympic Road Race – 140-kilometers
1. Marianne Vos (NED) 3:35:29
2. Elizabeth Armitstead (GBR) +0:00
3. Olga Zabelinskaya (RUS) +0:02
7. Shelley Olds (Gilroy, Calif./AA Drink-Leontien Cycling Team) +0:27
24. Evelyn Stevens (Acton, Mass./Specialized-lululemon) +0:27
35. Kristin Armstrong (Boise, Idaho/Exergy TWENTY12) +0:47
36. Amber Neben (Lake Forest, Calif./Specialized-lululemon) +0:51