A brilliant tactical display by the Australians handed Rochelle Gilmore the gold medal in the Commonwealth Games women’s road race through New Delhi’s virtually deserted streets on Sunday.
Her compatriot Alexis Hosking was outpaced by a cool Lizzie Armitstead in the sprint for the finish line to claim silver and bronze respectively.
“Today we got the big win. It was a perfect race by the team,” an elated Gilmore said at the finish line.
“We’ve been thinking about this for two years. We wanted to control the race to set up the sprint and we rode perfectly despite everyone throwing everything at us.”
Unfortunately none of the drama of the race was seen up close as there were no spectators anywhere on the course because the Delhi police had shut all road access.
The Australians rode as a unit throughout the eight-lap, 112km race around Delhi’s iconic Connaught Place, squeezing out the favorite, reigning Olympic road race champion Nicole Cooke of Wales, on the last lap.
“We talked about the plan of attack for a year now. I really had no option but pulling it off,” Gilmore added.
“We have three of the world’s fastest sprinters and we planned to be at the front since the beginning of the race. We had some really strong riders out there.”
Delhi’s retail hub, appropriately designed in the shape of a large wheel with radial roads spoking outwards from the centre, provided the perfect backdrop for a thrilling contest.
It was a flat but technical course which set the scene for a sprint finish and so it panned out, with the medals decided in the last 100 meters.
Kara Chesworth of Wales led out the first lap in a race overshadowed early on by crashes.
Angharad Mason of Wales came off her bike in a nasty-looking fall while England’s Sharon Laws crashed into a barrier on a hairpin left-hander.
The route was laden with sharp corners and sweeping turns which were ideal for attacks to be launched as the course looped past such famous sights as India Gate.
But no rider sustained a break with city dust making the relatively short distances a challenge and with the early morning heat turning it into a race of attrition.
With just under two laps remaining, New Zealand’s Linda Villumsen made a break with Australia’s Victoria Whitelaw, both non-sprinters, quickly opening up a huge gap.
The pack caught up with the Australians massing at the front.
The field began to thin out with the business end of the pack looking considerably smaller by the 84km mark and the pace dropped going into the last lap as the peloton — still with 37 riders — eased off.
Anne Samplonius came through in front with half a lap left, with the English getting organized to let Emma Pooley go in the last 6km.
But they got their tactics wrong with Pooley hitting the front too early. The New Zealander riders attacked with Australia in the box seats behind.
Gilmore, who had managed to ride eight laps virtually unnoticed, came through after sitting near the front until the last 100m.
Cooke, who ended fifth, said: “I knew I had to be in the front but I was a little behind.”
Cooke was expected to use the English riders to protect her in the last lap and help her sprint at the end.
“I should have used them but I didn’t and I came in fifth,” she said.