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By John Wilcockson
There have been some most unusual numerical coincidences at the 2001 world road championships here in Lisbon, Portugal, this week. Of the five time trials contested on the first three days, four of the eventual winners were fourth fastest at the first time split. The exception was elite women’s winner Jeannie Longo, who was second at that first time check. The road races started in similar vein on Friday: Both of the races ended in solo winners who finished exactly 17 seconds ahead of the runner-up. Could this trend continue through the final three races of the weekend? That might be too strange.
If there are to be solo winners, then the thousands of fans from around Europe who have arrived mainly for Sunday’s 254km pro men’s race will return home happy. A solo winner generally means an aggressive race., and aggression was the keyword in the early stages of the junior men’s road race Saturday morning. This race almost always produces a totally surprise winner. In the 26-year history of junior racing at world level, the only men who went on to much greater things were Italian Roberto Visentini (1975), Greg LeMond (1979) and Pavel Tonkov (1987).
This year, the riders looking to have the best credentials are the three medalists from Wednesday’s time trial — winner Jurgen Van den Broeck of Belgium, Oleksandr Kvachuk of Ukraine and Niels Scheuneman of the Netherlands — along with the current leader of the UCI Junior World Challenge, Jukka Vastaranta of Finland.
In Saturday afternoon’s elite women’s road race, there are a dozen or so potential winners, headed by time-trial winner Jeannie Longo, whose U.S.-based preparation was aimed at the road race — and she’ll be pleased that the day dawned dry with a forecast of 70-degree, part-sunny conditions. Other past champions vying for the gold are Lithuania’s Edita Pucinskaite and Diana Ziliute, and Italy’s Alessandra Cappellotto — but not 2000 winner and world No. 1 Zinaida Stahurskaia of Belarus, who is not being allowed to start because of a pending doping infraction.
The powerful Lithuanian team, which also includes time-trial medalist Rasa Polikeviciute, is clearly confident on Lisbon’s demanding circuit, and its 10-lap distance of 121km. Others in with a chance are the Scandinavian trio of Susanne Ljungskog of Sweden, Gunn-Rita Dahle of Norway and Pia Sundstedt of Finland; Switzerland’s Nicole Brändli; Germany’s Judith Arndt and Hanka Kupfernagel; Belgium’s Heidi Van de Vijver; the Netherlands’ Mirjam Melchers; Australia’s Anna Millward; and, hopefully, the U.S. team’s Kimberly Bruckner.
There may not be another 17-second winner this weekend, but if you believe in numerology, then race No. 17 in the women’s race is Norway’s Dahle — who came so close to winning the world cross-country title in last month. Stay tuned.
Look for full reports of the three remaining road races throughout the weekend at velonews.com.