Canada’s Tara Whitten capped a grueling week at the Commonwealth Games on Wednesday with a blistering ride in the searing heat to take gold in the individual time trial.
The 30-year-old track specialist, who has gradually shifted her focus to the road, finished seventh in the road race on Sunday. On Wednesday, however, Whitten came out on top in the time trial, finishing four seconds ahead of New Zealander Linda Villumsen after a commanding performance which saw her in the lead for the entire 29km course.
“I’m really happy,” she said. “It was the best day’s racing I’ve ever had. It was really painful for the last 10km, but I knew I had to win so I was able to hold it together.”
A few hundred spectators cheered enthusiastically near the start line at the Mahamaya Flyover as India’s Helen Devi led the race out, although they were largely drowned out by the noise of a helicopter hovering above.
As with the road race on Sunday though, there was no provision for spectators to line the course, a section of motorway nowhere near the main hub of central Delhi, which will stage India’s first Formula 1 race next year.
Whitten, who had ice down her back before the race to keep cool in the 32C (90F) heat, set the early pace at the Noida Express Highway with a tailwind behind her.
She got to the halfway mark on 16:48.67, seven seconds ahead of Villumsen, who had Julia Shaw of England biting at her heels.
The pre-race favorite Emma Pooley, 28, of England had a surprisingly slow ride out, and was well off the pace at the turn before limping in well outside the medal times.
It was a battle to be fit on time for Pooley, who was hit by the curse of Delhi belly before finishing a lowly 34th in Sunday’s road race and she looked like she was still off-color on Wednesday.
Melissa Holt of New Zealand was the first rider home to set a serious contending time, crossing the line on 39:22.96.
Shaw eclipsed this with 39:09.52 to take bronze before Whitten leapt into the lead with 38:59.30.
“I was quite worried about the heat because I’ve never raced in anything as hot as this before,” Shaw said. “But I did all the heat training I could do and I just had to keep my fingers crossed.
“I felt good until about 10km to go and then there was quite a strong wind in places. But I knew in practice there was going to be a headwind. With 5km to go I was really starting to suffer and I just had to hang on. I had no idea how I was doing.”
Whitten tried track cycling to train for her first sport, cross country skiing, eventually becoming only the third Canadian to win a world championship gold medal when she claimed victory in the omnium at the 2010 World Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark.
“It’s a sport that has a bit of everything,” she said. “It requires power and speed and a bit of tactical sense, so it’s always a challenge to figure out how to get better.”