By Andrew Hood
Nursing a five-second lead with 3km to go, the real question for Judith Arndt wasn’t whether she was going to win the elite women’s world championship race in Verona, Italy, but which finger she was going to raise coming across the line.
Few forget Arndt’s finish-line gesture at the Athens Olympics, when she flipped the bird as she came across the line second because she was angry German teammate Petra Rosner was left off the team.
With Rosner now quietly retired, the 28-year-old Arndt attacked on the final descent off the Torricelle climb midway through the final 14.75km lap of the 132.75km elite women’s road race and looked to have the legs to pull off the win.
But all eyes were on her hands. This time there was no angst. She pumped her fists in triumph as she crossed the line 10 seconds ahead of Italian Tatiana Guderzo with nary a finger in sight.
“I had forgotten all about that before this race,” Arndt said of the Olympic incident.
Arndt was just one of many big names lining up for the women’s race and after a slow start, the fireworks began in earnest late in the race. Arndt was one of seven riders to clear the Torricelle climb and shoot free on the final lap.
After a relatively quiet start, things started to liven up with four laps to go. Swiss rider Sarah Grab chugged away on the Torricelle climb, opening a 10-second gap coming over the top. Canadian Erinne Willock gave chase on the descent before Spanish rider Dori Ruano bridged out to make it a trio.
With three laps to go, the leading threesome worked well together and came to the base of the climb holding a 57-second gap. The difference caused a ripple through the bunch, causing the Italians to move to the front of the bunch. American Christine Thorburn got caught up behind a pile-up on the climb, but without any consequence.
The gap narrowed up the climb under pressure from the Italians. Aussie Marget Hemsley shot down the descent to make it a foursome with two laps to go, but the main bunch was closing in fast at 28 seconds.
“You have to give it a try,” said Ruano. “The pace was very slow and we wanted to break things up. We were working for Joanne [Somarriba], but I had some freedom to try something.”
With the leading four hitting the penultimate climb, none other than the great Jeannie Longo of France led the chase. Longo’s pace trimmed the lead to 12 seconds, prompting an attack from teammate Edwinge Patel.
The main bunch got busted apart and the break was neutralized at the summit of the climb, prompting a downhill attack from Russian Zoulfia Zabirova. Two Americans made the lead group over the top.
Dutch rider Chantal Beltman with Russian Svetlana Bubnenkova giving chase on the final climb up Torricelle. In the main bunch, the favorites started attacking. Lithuanian Edita Pucinskaite punched the accelerator. Beltman faded but Bubnenkova was hanging on off the front. Spain’s Joanne Somarriba also tried, but the main group stubbornly stayed together.
Somarriba would have been a favorite on the tough Verona course, but was taking antibiotics to ward off a cold that struck her early in the week.
“I am very disappointed,” said Somarriba, who finished seventh. “This is a perfect course for me, and under normal conditions I would have been able to be much more aggressive. I had to work hard to stay close. It’s always the same bad luck I have in the world’s.”
Italian Tatiania Guderzo shot off the front, dropping the favorites and making quick time on Bubnenkova. Giving chase were Somarriba, Pucinskaite, Swiss rider Nicole Brändli and Judith Arndt. Just near the summit, Arndt attacked and soloed over the top.
Six riders cleared the summit: Somarriba, Pucinskaite, Brändli, Arndt, Guderzo and Bubnenkova.
Leading the chase were Americans Thorburn and Dede Barry.
“We just kind of waited and tried to ride as conservatively as possible until the last lap,” said Barry. “When the attack went at the base of last climb, I tried to go with it but my legs were just cramping like crazy. I just couldn’t go with it at that point. We tried to pull it back at the end but we didn’t really have enough help.”
Arndt made her daring final attack on the lower flanks of the descent, carving a slender 5-second gap while Bubnenkova almost veered off-course and lost position.
Guderzo got tired of waiting and gave chase alone, giving Arndt a scare in the approach to the finish.
“The Italian girl was very strong, and I didn’t expect that,” said Arndt.
“There is always the hope to win the race, to catch the rider at the front,” Guderzo said.
In the end, however, Arndt was strong enough to hold Guderzo off by five seconds with 3km to go. And this time she crossed the line with both arms in the air, a smile on her face.
1. Judith Arndt (G), 132.75km in 3:44:38 (35.458 kph)
2. Tatiana Guderzo (I), at 0:10
3. Anita Valen (N), at 0:12
4. Trixi Worrack (G), at 0:12
5. Modesta Vzesniauskaite (LIT), at 0:12
6. Nicole Brändli (Swi), at 0:12
7. Joane Somarriba (Sp), at 0:12
8. Svetlana Bubnenkova (Rus), at 0:12
9. Mirjam Melchers (Nl), at 0:12
10. Edita Pucinskaite (Lit), at 0:12
11. Valentina Polkhanova (Rus), at 0:12
12. Zoulfia Zabirova (Rus), at 0:12
13. Oenone Wood (Aus), at 0:41
14. Lyne Bessette (Can), at 0:41
15. Eneritz Iturriaga (Sp), at 0:41
16. Deirdre Demet-Barry (USA), at 0:41
17. Rasa Polikeviciute (Lit), at 0:41
18. Susan Palmer-Komar (Can), at 0:41
19. Jolanta Polikeviciute (Lit), at 0:41
20. Christine Thorburn (USA), at 0:41FullResults