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Neben grabs gold in women’s ITT at world championships

The U.S. women’s team struck gold in Wednesday’s time trial at the Varese world championships, but it wasn’t Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong bringing home the rainbow jersey. With pre-race favorite Armstrong slotting into fifth, it was Amben Neben who stormed to victory in the challenging 25.15km course in dramatic fashion to win her first major international time trial race. “I don’t have any words, I’m just so excited, so happy,” Neben said. “I cannot speak right now, I don’t know what to say. It’s a dream come true.”

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By Andrew Hood

Amber Neben of the United States gets the gold in the women's ITT at road worlds in Italy.

Amber Neben of the United States gets the gold in the women’s ITT at road worlds in Italy.

Photo: Graham Watson

The U.S. women’s team struck gold in Wednesday’s time trial at the Varese world championships, but it wasn’t Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong bringing home the rainbow jersey.

With pre-race favorite Armstrong slotting into fifth, it was Amben Neben who stormed to victory in the challenging 25.15km course in dramatic fashion to win her first major international time trial race.

“I don’t have any words, I’m just so excited, so happy,” Neben said. “I cannot speak right now, I don’t know what to say. It’s a dream come true.”

Neben, 33, set the fastest time up the opening 6.68km climbing section and then powered through the mid-course flats and sliced down a tricky descending section to win in 33 minutes, 51.35 (44.571kph).

Austrian Christiane Soeder finished second.

Austrian Christiane Soeder finished second.

Photo: Graham Watson

Christiane Soeder (Austria) made up for finishing fourth in the Beijing Olympic road race by taking silver in 33:58.91. She was fastest in the final 10km and gave Neben the biggest scare, finishing just 7.56 seconds off the pace.

“I had a good day, because I didn’t have a good time trial in Beijing,” Soeder said. “I tried not to start too hard in the first climb so in the end I had extra energy to go harder. I had enough power in the flat.”

Judith Arndt (Germany) was consistent throughout the race to mine bronze in 34:13.12 at 21.77 seconds slower.

Arndt – a favorite for the road race on Saturday – expressed her satisfaction after scoring her fourth world time trial medal, adding to her two silvers and bronze going all the way back in 1997.

Germany's Judith Arndt en route to the bronze.

Germany’s Judith Arndt en route to the bronze.

Photo: Graham Watson

“I am very happy. It’s been a long and hard season, with a lot of ups and downs. I’m kind of surprised. My preparation wasn’t perfect for the time trial. I’m working hard for the road race on Saturday and I was lying in bed the past two days hoping that I might recover,” the veteran German said.

“It’s harder to win a medal in the worlds now than it was eight years ago. You really have to focus and work on it and it requires more specific training, so this medal is worth more than the others for me.”

Just rewards for Neben

A day after morning showers dampened the under-23 time trial, excellent weather welcomed 43 starters with clear skies, a light breeze and temperatures in the low 70s.

Starting with 14 riders to go, Neben’s wait in the “hot seat” was interminable as all the big guns to come in behind her.

“There were 13 riders behind me. Then you’re just sitting, waiting. I didn’t have TV, so I didn’t have a good feel for what was going on, I didn’t know the time splits,” Neben said. “I knew who still had to come. You’re not going to get too excited until those riders come through, knowing their history and results and how well they’ve been riding the past few weeks.”

Neben was chewing her fingernails when Olympic champion Armstrong hit the course last.

Olympic champ Kristin Armstrong had to settle for fifth at the worlds.

Olympic champ Kristin Armstrong had to settle for fifth at the worlds.

Photo: Graham Watson

Riding with a golden helmet with painted stars, Armstrong was fourth-fastest up the climb at 16 seconds off Neben’s time and posted the second-fastest time at the second split at 15.26km, but lost a shot at the podium in the final 10km.

“I really don’t have much to say right now. It wasn’t the best performance. It’s really difficult to come up a few times in a year. I just have to take the Olympic championship and go with it,” Armstrong told VeloNews. “I felt great, so the strongest person won today. I have to give it to Amber. She had a great ride.”

It was worth the wait for the hard-working Neben, who’s often been overshadowed by her stronger time trial teammates Armstrong and Christine Thorburn, who finished 12th at 1:17.16 off the pace.

Neben becomes the fourth U.S. women to win the world time trial title since competition began in 1994. Armstrong won in 2006, Mari Holden won in 2000 and Karen Kurreck in 1994.

Often the third wheel when it comes to gaining spots for the world championships, faced with competing against the likes of Armstrong and Thorburn, Neben missed start spots in the past two Olympic Games.

The U.S. team enjoyed three starting spots in Varese thanks to the automatic bid that went to Armstrong, opening the door for all three top riders to start.

“We have a good group. We’re A, double-A and triple-A personalities. I’m a little bit more relaxed than the other two. We know how each of us prepares for a big race like this. We know what the boundaries are,” Neben said. “We have a genuine respect for each other and we want each other to do well.”

Christine Thorburn was third best American at 12th.

Christine Thorburn was third best American at 12th.

Photo: Graham Watson

That was reflected by Thorburn – likely racing in her final major international event – rushing to the finish line to see Neben accept the gold medal.

The victory was doubly sweet for Neben, who underwent surgery to remove a melanoma on her back last fall.

After catching the potentially deadly disease early, she quickly resumed training and has enjoyed a fine season. She fought her way onto her first Olympic team for a trip to Beijing and then won the Tour Cycliste Féminin Ardèche on Sept. 13 to hone her form before Italy.

In Varese, she found the roads to her liking and powered into the biggest win of career.

“The course was very beautiful, mentally challenging. It wasn’t so boring at all. You had to be thinking all the time,” she said. “You had to plan how you were going to set up the corners, about how you were facing the course.”

Leipheimer No.1 bib in men’s TT

The 2008 world road cycling championships continue Thursday with the elite men’s time trial. Fifty-eight starters will tackle a 43.7km course that favors the big rolleurs and specialists.

The course is different than the loop used by the U-23 and elite women. It drops down from Varese with a few technical corners before beginning a 22km loop around Lago di Varese.

At Buguggiate at 30.4km, there’s a 2km climbing section with an average grade of 4.1 percent and continues a slightly rising gradient toward the finish back in Varese.

Levi Leipheimer earns the No.1 bib number and will start last while Dave Zabriskie will go eighth from last.

Coming off two victories in the Vuelta a España and the bronze medal in Beijing, Leipheimer will be the five-star favorite for gold.

“My form is good right now,” he said. “I just have to give it one more push.”

To boost his confidence, Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel will be driving in the U.S. team car to guide Leipheimer through the course.

Beijing silver medalist Gustav Larsson (Sweden) and three-time world champion Michael Rogers (Australia) are expected to give him a run for the medals. David Millar (Great Britain), Zabriskie, José Ivan Gutierrez (Spain) and Sylvain Chavanel (France), second to Leipheimer in the Vuelta’s first time trial, should all be in the hunt for medals.

Two-time world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland) cited fatigue after winning the Olympic gold medal and will not be defending his title.

Photo Gallery

Results

World road championships
Women’s individual time trial: Top 20



1. Amber Neben (USA), 25,15km in 33:51
2. Christiane Soeder (AUT), at at 7.56
3. Judith Arndt (GER), at 21.77
4. Tatiana Antoshina (RUS), at 23.39
5. Kristin Armstrong (USA), at 25.27
6. Karin Thurig (SUI), at 29.99
7. Susanne Ljungskog (SWE), at 57.38
8. Emma Pooley (GBR), at 57.52
9. Charlotte Becker (GER), at 1:03.32
10. Linda Villumsen (DEN), at 1:05.43
11. Anne Samplonius (CAN), at 1:07.91
12. Christine Thorburn (USA), at 1:17.16
13. Jeannie Longo (FRA), at 1:20.03
14. Emma Johansson (SWE), at 1:26.31
15. Diana Ziliute (LTU), at 1:35.83
16. Vicki Whitelaw (AUS), at 1:36.23
17. Julie Beveridge (CAN), at 1:53.56
18. Martina Ruzickova (CZE), at 2:02.24
19. Sharon Laws (GBR), at 2:03.06
20. Ellen Van Dijk (NED), at 2:11.46

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