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By Andrew Hood
Susanne Ljungskog survived crashes, rain and a blistering pace to prevail over a three-rider break in the final kilometer to win the world title in Saturday’s exciting, rough and tumble 128-km elite women’s road race.
The Swede didn’t stop after she bridged out to three riders who were narrowing down on victory just 600 meters to the finish-line. Ljungskog roared to the gold medal in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 15 seconds (42.845 kph) while Swiss rider Nicole Brandli took her second silver at these world’s and Spanish rider Joanne Somarriba hung on for bronze.
“I felt strong and I just did it even though I don’t like this course,” said Ljungskog, second overall at the 2002 Grande Boucle Feminine Internationale. “It’s not a course to make a selection, so one just has to make the race.”
Australian Sara Carrigan followed Brandli and Somarriba over the Sterrenwacht climb on the penultimate lap and the trio opened up a 20-second gap just as rain started to fall on the bell lap. With about 8 km to go, crashes on both sides of the road split the lead group.
Ljungskog followed Dutch rider Mirjam Melchers when she attacked out of a leading group of about 15 chasers with less than three kilometers to go. As Ljungskog was passing Melchers’ right, the pair seemed to bump or touch tires and Melchers went flying to the ground. Right behind her, 2000 world champion Zinaida Stahurskaia crashed into Melchers and somersaulted over her handlebars to the pavement. Incredibly, both riders finished.
“I think it was Mirjam who went into my back wheel because I felt it,” said Ljungskog, who put her head down and inched closer and closer to the leading trio. Ljungskog pounced when Carrigan made the first move and easily won.
Alison Wright (Australia) led the main bunch across at 18 seconds back and Deirdre Demet-Barry was the only American to finish in the lead bunch to take 16th as the top U.S. finish.
“I was saying my prayers out there all day. Once it started to rain, I had two really close calls on the final lap but I made it through there somehow. At that point, it’s just all luck,” she said. “It was sketchy out there once it started to rain. The paint was slick and there are a lot of nervous riders. The course wasn’t hard enough to weed out the peloton like it normally would.”
Due to the late crashes, only 13 riders finished with the lead group at 18 seconds back. Laura Van Gilder came in at 51st and Kimberly Bruckner at 55th, both at 1:04 back. Mari Holden and Tina Mayolo, 81st and 82nd respectively, came across at 8:03 back while Amber Neben did not finish.
“People were just tumbling everywhere,” said Mayolo, who got caught up behind the pileup with 8 km to go. “At that point we were off the back and it was impossible to come back.”
Things were quiet in the first lap. Cycling legend Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli was at the front wearing some cra-a-a-zy old-school helmet, gardening gloves and her water-bottle cage on her seatpost. Longo-Ciprelli finished 59th at 1:04 back.
Holden made a move in the second lap and opened up a small gap, but so early in the race it was difficult to make the move stick. German pre-race favorite and World Cup champion Petra Rossner crashed hard in the third lap and abandoned with cuts to the cheek and chin.
Canadian Lynn Bessette abandoned in the fourth lap and the group stayed together until the sixth lap, when four riders including Wednesday’s time trial champion Zoulfia Zabirova peeled off the front.
French rider Catherine Marsal and 1997 world champion Italian Alessandra Cappellotto had a go before being reeled in during the seventh lap. Russian Svetlana Boubnenkova built up a small, 12-seccond gap in the eighth lap with German Judith Arndt chasing. Another crash late in the eighth lap sent two Americans and another half-dozen riders sprawling to the ground.
In the ninth lap at the Sterrenwecht, Somarriba accelerated and Brandli and Carrigan followed. These riders finished second, fourth and fifth, respectively, in Wednesday’s time trial so they quickly opened up a gap.
Only Ljungskog ruined their party. Both Brandli and Somarriba said they were grateful for their medals.
“This course is not difficult so the only way to try to win for me because I am not a sprinter is to attack and that’s what I did,” Somarriba said. “When I saw Ljungskog come up I thought normally in a group of four, I finish fourth. So I am very happy with this medal.”
1. Susanne Ljungskog (S), at 2:59:15 (42.851 kph)
2. Nicole Brandli (Swi)
3. Joane Somarriba Arrola (Sp)
4. Sara Carrigan (Aus), all s.t.
5. Alison Wright (Aus), at 0:18
6. Olga Slyusareva (Rus)
7. Magali Le Floch (F)
8. Arenda Grimberg (Nl)
9. Volha Hayeva (Blr)
10. Sara Felloni (I)
11. Evy Van Damme (B)
12. Heidi Van De Vijver (B)
13. Regina Schleicher (G)
14. Zita Urbonaite (Lit)
15. Modesta Vzesniauskaite (Lit)
16. Deirdre Demet-Barry (USA)
17. Priska Doppmann (Swi)
18. Ioulia Martissova (Rus), all s.t.
19. Melissa Holt (NZ), at 0:23
20. Iryna Chuzhynova (Ukr)
21. Leontien Zijlaard – Van Moorsel (Nl)
22. Debby Mansveld (Nl)
23. Janildes Fernandes Silva (Bra)
24. Sophie Creux (F)
25. Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit), all s.t.
26. Edita Pucinskaite (Lit), at 0:27
27. Veronique Belleter (B)
28. Annette Beutler (Swi)
29. Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus)
30. Katia Longhin (I)
31. Marcia Eicher-Vouets (Swi)
32. Eneritz Iturriaga (Sp)
33. Rochelle Gilmore (Aus)
34. Olivia Gollan (Aus)
35. Nicole Cooke (GB)
36. Cindy Pieters (B)
37. Edita Kubelskiene (Lit)
38. Alessandra Cappellotto (I)
39. Sandrine Marcuz (F), all s.t.
40. Svetlana Boubnenkova (Rus), at 0:31
41. Nataliya Kachalka (Ukr), s.t.
42. Hayley Rutherford (Aus), at 0:33
43. Valentina Polkhanova (Rus)
44. Belem Guerrero Mendez (Mex)
45. Judith Arndt (G), all s.t.
46. Corine Hierckens (B), at 0:41
47. Alessandra D’ettorre (I), at 1:04
48. Rosa Maria Bravo Soba (Sp)
49. Valentyna Karpenko (Ukr)
50. Tetyana Andrushchenko (Ukr)
51. Joanne Kiesanowski (NZ)
52. Laura Vangilder (USA)
53. Teodora Ruano Sanchon (Sp)
54. Anna Skawinska (Pol)
55. Isabella Wieser (A)
56. Kimberly Bruckner (USA)
57. Giorgia Bronzini (I)
58. Wenche Stensvold (N)
59. Arantzazu Azpiroz (Sp)
60. Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli (F), all s.t.
61. Denise Baumann (Swi), at 1:30
62. Rachel Heal (GB)
63. Shani Bloch (Isr), both s.t.
64. Anita Valen (N), at 1:43
65. Anouska Van Der Zee (Nl), at 1:49
66. Emma James (Aus), at 1:54
67. Susan Palmer (Can), s.t.
68. Frances Newstead (GB), at 2:02
69. Lada Kozlikova (Cz)
70. Sissy Van Alebeek (Nl)
71. Monica Valen (N), at 2:21
72. Zinaida Stahurskaya (Blr), at 2:30
73. Susan Carter (GB), at 3:25
74. Jenny Algelid-Bengtsson (S), at 3:31
75. Vanja Vonckx (B), at 4:07
76. Mirjam Melchers (Nl), s.t.
77. Virginie Moinard (F), at 5:16
78. Sarah Grab (Swi), at 6:49
79. Anna Sipurzynska (Pol), at 8:03
80. Maria Luisa Calle (Col)
81. Mari Holden (USA)
82. Tina Mayolo (USA)
83. Sara Waller (GB)
84. Vibe Janne Kolding (Dk), all s.t.
85. Evelyn Garcia (ESA), at 11:55
86. Kirsty Nicole Robb (NZ), at 14:07
87. Margaret Hemsley (Aus)
88. Zlatica Gavlakova (Svk), both s.t.
89. Katy St Laurent (Can), at 15:45
90. Olga Khortova (Rus), at 19:05
DNF Diana Elmentaite (Lit)
DNF Jolanta Polikeviciute (Lit)
DNF Catherine Marsal (F)
DNF Angela Brodtka (G)
DNF Tina Liebig (G)
DNF Petra Rossner (G)
DNF Ina Teutenberg (G)
DNF Trixi Worrack (G)
DNF Madeleine Lindberg (S)
DNF Noemi Cantele (I)
DNF Lyne Bessette (Can)
DNF Solrun Flataas (N)
DNF Jorunn Kvalö (N)
DNF Emma Davies (GB)
DNF Bogumila Matusiak (Pol)
DNF Lisbeth Simper (Dk)
DNF Elyzaveta Bochkaryeva (Ukr)
DNF Irina Simonova (Ukr)
DNF Amber Neben (USA)
DNF Miho Oki (Jpn)
DNF Valeria Pintos (Arg)
DNF Chalime Giourbouz (Gre)