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Nicole Cooke’s perfect season just got better.
Just six weeks after winning the Olympic gold medal in Beijing, the 24-year-old Welshwoman executed seamless tactics Saturday in a thrilling final lap to win her first world title.
Cooke followed her instinct to make a final-stage attack by arch-rival Marianne Vos and then pipped her at the line to relegate the Dutch rider to silver with Judith Arndt collected her second bronze medal in the Varese world championships.
“I’m very proud of what I achieved today. I was relaxed at the start because I had achieved my goal for the season with the Olympics,” Cooke said. “In the end, it wasn’t really tactics, but some of it was instinct. It was more just knowing my limits and doing what’s possible.”
Cooke was part of the winning breakaway that rode the vapors of Vos’s attack that came just as the remnants of an all-race breakaway driven by Kristin Armstrong was reeled in with one lap to go in the 138.8km, eight-lap elite women’s road race.
Vos surged clear on the Via Montello climb, dragging along Cooke, Arndt and German teammate Trixi Worrack and Emma Johansson (Sweden).
Amber Neben led the Americans with 22nd at 1:47 back in the first chase group, but expressed disappointment that she didn’t quite have the legs to follow when Vos made her move.
“I just didn’t have the legs when I needed to. I tried to attack on the penultimate lap and maybe I should have been more patient to wait for the attacks to come,” said Neben, who won gold in the time trial on Wednesday. “I’m really happy about the gold medal, but I tried to put that out of my mind today. We really wanted to do something today. I’m just disappointed.”
With the rainbow jersey, Cooke finally got the big win that eluded her in previous cracks at the worlds. She owns three medals from the past four worlds, but none of them were gold.
“It was a dream come true in Beijing. It was fantastic how it all happened,” Cooke said. “I don’t think I’ve realized yet what I’ve done, because I’ve been so busy, so much going on. I think I will take some time to let it sink in.”
Cooke played just right, measuring her efforts and marking the wheels.
Vos tried to shake everyone on the final Ronchi climb, but the German tandem reeled her in to bring the five into the final kilometers.
Worrack jumped with about 1200m to go and then Johansson – second to Cooke in Beijing – and looked to have a promising gap with 500m to go.
Arndt drove hard through the final corner at 400m and Vos opened up her sprint with 200m to go, leaving Arndt to take leftovers with bronze.
“I’m happy. I really enjoyed it. It was a great race. The German national team was always on top of things. We had three riders in the early breakaway, then we had two more in the final break and we took third,” she said. “We tried everything we could. We know those guys are better sprinters than us, we attacked, attacked, attacked. We can be proud.”
Cooke seemed to hesitate when Vos exploded off Arndt’s wheel, but stood out of the saddle to close down the gap and come around her shoulder to claim the double.
While it was a huge win for Cooke, who won in 3:42:11 (37.482kph), it was a bitter disappointment for Vos.
A world champion in 2006, Vos finished a disappointing sixth in the women’s Olympic race in Beijing and came to Varese looking for revenge.
“I don’t think I made any big mistakes. I felt really good and so I attacked. That’s what I had to do,” said Vos, who did win gold in the points race in Beijing. “I felt good in the last lap. I tried to attack, but I couldn’t get a break. I tried to win, but Cooke was very fast in the end. I couldn’t go any faster anyway, so she deserves to win.”
The race opened with an odd crash on the first climb in lap 1.Armstrong was nosing off the front with three of the riders when it appeared that a Swedish rider slipped on some painted letters on the climb, knocking out an entire row of the front riders.
The entire pack came to a stand still as the road was entirely blocked with a tangle of bikes, bodies and Lycra.
Armstrong set a strong pace that helped forge the leading break of a baker’s dozen riders to open a promising 25-second gap on the chasing peloton.
Armstrong kept hammering the front, but the gap never grew more than two minutes as the Dutch and British team kept up the pressure in the main pack.
Christine Thorburn, racing in what’s likely her final major international competition, got squeezed into the fences with less than two laps to go when the chase was really heating up. She wasn’t seriously injured, but lost contact at a key moment of the race and did not finish.
Results – Women’s Road Race
2008 World Championships
1. Nicole Cooke (Great Britain), 138.80km in 3:42:11 (37.5kph)
2. Marianne Vos (Netherlands), same time
3. Judith Arndt (Germany), s.t.
4. Emma Johansson (Sweden), at 0:05
5. Trixi Worrack (Germany), at 0:11
6. Diana Ziliute (Lithuania), at 1:47
7. Marta Vilajosana Andreu (Spain), s.t.
8. Joanne Kiesanowski (New Zealand), s.t.
9. Alex Wrubleski (Canada), s.t.
10. Julia Martisova (Russia), s.t.
11. Claudia Häusler (Germany), s.t.
12. Chantal Beltman (Netherlands), s.t.
13. Linda Villumsen (Denmark), s.t.
14. Giorgia Bronzini (Italy), s.t.
15. Nikki Egyed (Australia), s.t.
16. Grace Verbeke (Belgium), s.t.
17. Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (France), s.t.
18. Edita Pucinskaite (Lithuania), s.t.
19. Christiane Soeder (Austria), s.t.
20. Maryline Salvetat (France), s.t.
21. Kaytee Boyd (New Zealand), s.t.
22. Amber Neben (USA), s.t.
23. Malgorzta Jasinska (Poland), s.t.
24. Siobhan Dervan (Ireland), s.t.
25. Laura Lorenza Morfin Macouzet (Mexico), s.t.
26. Monia Baccaille (Italy), s.t.
27. Rasa Polikeviciute (Lithuania), s.t.
28. Sharon Laws (Great Britain), s.t.
29. Tatiana Guderzo (Italy), s.t.
30. Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (Netherlands), s.t.
31. Susanne Ljungskog (Sweden), s.t.
32. Modesta Vzesniauskaite (Lithuania), at 1:56
33. Natalia Boyarskaya (Russia), s.t.
34. Jolanta Polikeviciute (Lithuania), s.t.
35. Emma Pooley (Great Britain), s.t.
36. Anna Sanchis Chafer (Spain), s.t.
37. Noemi Cantele (Italy), at 1:59
38. Zinaida Stahurskaya (Belarus), at 4:54
39. Kristin Armstrong (USA), at 4:56
40. Alexandra Burchenkova (Russia), at 5:24
41. Elizabeth Armitstead (Great Britain), s.t.
42. Rosane Kirch (Brazil), at 6:08
43. Grete Treier (Estonia), at 6:11
44. Maja Adamsen (Denmark), s.t.
45. Oxana Kozonchuk (Russia), s.t.
46. Clemilda Fernandes Silva (Brazil), s.t.
47. Karine Gautard (France), s.t.
48. Erinne Willock (Canada), s.t.
49. Lieselot Decroix (Belgium), s.t.
50. Sereina Trachsel (Switzerland), s.t.
51. Martina Ruzickova (Czech Republic), s.t.
52. Iturriagaechevarria (Spain), s.t.
53. Vicki Whitelaw (Australia), s.t.
54. Edwige Pitel (France), s.t.
55. Paulina Brzezna (Poland), s.t.
56. Marissa Van Der Merwe (South Africa), s.t.
57. Monika Grzebinoga (Poland), s.t.
58. Liesbet De Vocht (Belgium), s.t.
59. Daniela Pintarelli (Austria), s.t.
60. Julie Beveridge (Canada), s.t.
61. Jessica Allen (Great Britain), s.t.
62. Suzanne De Goede (Netherlands), s.t.
63. Oenone Wood (Australia), s.t.
64. Carla Ryan (Australia), s.t.
65. Tatiana Antoshina (Russia), s.t.
66. Patricia Schwager (Switzerland), s.t.
67. Kori Kelley Seehafer (USA), s.t.
68. Monika Schachl (Austria), at 6:16
69. Rosara Joseph (New Zealand), s.t.
70. Fabiana Luperini (Italy), s.t.
71. Charlotte Becker (Germany), s.t.
72. Luise Keller (Germany), s.t.
73. Oksana Kashchyshyna (Ukraine), at 9:22
74. Verónica Leal Balderas (Mexico), s.t.
75. Sylwia Kapusta (Poland), at 12:14
76. Anriette Schoeman (South Africa), at 13:17
77. Sigrid Corneo (Slovenia), s.t.
78. Felicia Greer (Canada), s.t.
79. Jennifer Hohl (Switzerland), s.t.
80. Elodie Touffet (France), s.t.
81. Rasa Leleivyte (Lithuania), s.t.
82. Miho Oki (Japan), at 17:50
83. Yevgeniya Vysotska (Ukraine), at 20:20
84. Laure Werner (Belgium), at 22:02
85. Mirjam Hauser-Senn (Switzerland), s.t.
86. Julie Krasniak (France), at 27:51
87. Chrissie Viljoen (South Africa), at 28:39
88. Lynette Burger (South Africa), s.t.
89. Magdalena Zamolska (Poland), s.t.
90. Inga Cilvinaite (Lithuania), s.t.
91. Alona Andruk (Ukraine), s.t.
Did Not Finish
Karin Thürig (Switzerland)
Anne Samplonius (Canada)
Irene Van Den Broek (Netherlands)
Christine Thorburn (USA)
Angela Brodtka (Germany)
Rochelle Gilmore (Australia)
Anita Valen De Vries (Norway)
Hanna Taukanitsa (Belarus)
Yuka Yamashima (Japan)
Maria Briceno Jimenez (Venezuela)
Eva Lechner (Italy)
Brooke Miller (USA)
Emma Rickards (Australia)
Katheryn Curi Mattis (USA)
Andrea Thürig (Switzerland)
Iosune Murillo Elkano (Spain)
Regina Bruins (Netherlands)
Jarmila Machacova (Czech Republic)
Yulia Blindyuk (Russia)
Louise Moriarty (Ireland)
Leticia Gil Parra (Spain)
Olivia Dillon (Ireland)
Garcia Buittrago D: (Venezuela)
Kathryn Bertine SKN
Monica Holler (Sweden)
Christine Majerus (Luxembourg)
Karin Aune (Sweden)
Anna Harkowska (Poland)
Robyn De Groot (South Africa)
Cherise Taylor (South Africa)
Uenia Fernandes Da Souza (Brazil)
Emilia Fahlin (Sweden)
Nathalie Bates (Australia)
Yolandi Du Toit (South Africa)
Janildes Fernandes Silva (Brazil)
Pascual Torrecilla G: (Spain)
Marie Lindberg (Sweden)
Heather Wilson (Ireland)
Alena Sits Ko (Belarus)
Polona Batagelj (Slovenia)
Nathalie Lamborelle (Luxembourg)
Laura Lepasalu (Estonia)
Katarina Uhlarikova (Slovakia)
Adriana Lovera Varela (Venezuela)
Mariya Slokotovich (Kazakhstan)
Mayuko Hagiwara (Japan)