LONDON (AFP) — Dutch cycling sensation Marianna Vos finally added Olympic road race gold to her impressive collection of titles after dominating Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead in a two-up sprint on Sunday.
Armitstead finished second, more than a bike length behind, to take the silver — the host country’s first of the London Games — with Olga Zabelinskaya of Russia claiming the bronze after 140km of road racing.
Shelley Olds was the top American in seventh place, 27 seconds back.
Vos, the Olympic champion in the track points race in Beijing, came into the race having won five stages of the women’s Giro d’Italia as well as the event’s overall title.
And she proved that form had not deserted her with a powerful sprint inside the final 200 meters that Armitstead simply could not match.
“We gave everything in the breakaway. There were so many people. It was The Mall. It was like a wall of sound. I just sprinted to the line,” said Vos.
“After Beijing, that was the only thing that was on my mind for four years. Now that it’s happened, it’s incredible. Now the gold is mine.”
Defending Olympic champion Nicole Cooke of Britain finished with the main chasing peloton less than 30 seconds behind the leading trio, who came into the capital on their own to contest the medals.
With the pressure on Britain to claim a medal after the men’s road race whitewash on Saturday, the British women made sure there would be no repeat with both Emma Pooley and Armitstead among the main protagonists.
And despite missing out on gold, an emotional Armitstead was delighted to hand the hosts their first medal of the Games.
“I am very, very happy. To be an Olympic medalist at your home Games and the first one is something I cannot get my head around,” she said.
After a series of attacks and counter-attacks by climbing specialist Pooley on the Box Hill circuit, Armitstead did well to follow Vos when the Dutchwoman countered Zabelinskaya with 45km to go.
American Shelley Olds joined the trio and together the four leaders soon went on to build a lead of 30 seconds on the peloton over the next 15km.
“The only thing I thought was, I’ve got to cross the line first. That’s what’s simple about cycling, but in the end, it’s very tough,” said Vos. “We made it a tough race. There were not so many countries who also attacked, but we did very well to make the race aggressive.”
Germany, Italy and Sweden were among the big teams not represented in the attack and were left in a desperate chase that was made even more difficult when the rain that had marred the start of the race came on again.
The leaders’ bid to stay away suffered a minor blow when Olds dropped out after appearing to suffer a puncture. Almost simultaneously, Swede Emma Johansson suffered the same setback in the chasing peloton.
“We were four, but then Olds punctured, then we were all riding for a medal, and that’s a big advantage,” said Vos.
Olds got a wheel change, but her race was done.
“It wasn’t actually a quick wheel change. It should have been faster,” she said. “I had to fight to get on the group that passed me. But I thought because Germany and Italy weren’t represented, and then my team found out that I wasn’t in the break anymore, I thought between the three teams we could bring it back.
“But it was just horrible conditions, and it was not an easy course to chase on. When I was in the breakaway, they were riding hard. It was hard to be in the breakaway, and I knew they would continue to ride hard.”
And indeed they did. Despite the Americans and Italians moving to the front of the chasing bunch in a bid to help close the gap, the leaders’ continued collaboration gave them a lead bordering on 45 seconds with 18 km remaining.
Zabelinskaya was on the point when Vos shot around her on the left, followed by Armitstead, and the Russian could not respond.
The Brit made a fight of it, but Vos would not be denied. She crossed the line with both fists pumping skyward to collect the Netherlands’ third gold medal in the women’s road race, following Monique Knol (1988) and Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel (2000).
Zabelinskaya likewise was happy with her bronze medal. ”I didn’t expect it, though I dreamt about it, but I didn’t have any plans. It just happened,” she said. “I am glad and very pleased, but if it didn’t work, it would have still been OK.”
As for the gold medalist, the Russian added: ”She is a machine right now and the rest of us are not yet at this high level.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the 2012 London Olympics.