After five near-misses, Linda Villumsen finally wins the rainbow jersey
Bronze in the world championship time trial in 2009 and again in 2010. Silver in 2011. Bronze in 2012. Silver in 2013. Linda Villumsen (New Zealand formerly Denmark) may very well be the most consistent time trialist around but the rainbow jersey kept eluding her.
She has worn the golden stars of the European title, taken home the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games and sported the national colours of two countries. Today, her ultimate quest, that for the rainbow stripes, was finally fulfilled.
Winning by just two-and-a-half seconds, Villumsen, 30, can finally call herself the world champion time trialist.
“I can’t believe it. I really can’t believe it,” Villumsen exclaimed after some the longest minutes of her life, waiting in the hot seat. “I really gave it my everything.”
The second to last person to start, Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen came dangerously close. Pushing the last bit of energy out of her body with a bike throw at the line, she came just 2.54 seconds short.
Defending champion Lisa Brennauer (Germany) was the last rider to finish. She gained a tremendous amount of time in the last bit of the race and came barrelling down the finishing straight. She would finish 5.26 seconds short.
Relief and a giant smile came across Villumsen’s face. She had done it. It took 10 years but she finally did it.
“I was almost getting used to getting second or third” she joked after it had all sunk in. “But it was just a day where everything played up my way. Even though I didn’t have split times or knew what was going on behind me, I felt really good all the way and thought, ‘maybe this is my day’.”
For the first few hours of the race, it looked like American Kristin Armstrong would take the win. As the second starter of the day, Armstrong set the standard early on.
Completing the 30-kilometre race in 40:50:45 with a pace of 43.29 km/h, she was the first rider to cross the finish line and moved straight into hot seat.
A two-time Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion, Armstrong had come out of retirement for the second time earlier this year. The 42-year-old went into the race as a definite favourite and performed with confidence.
Waves one, two and three came and went without any rider coming within even 30 seconds of Armstrong’s time.
Riding in the second wave, former world champion Ellen van Dijk (The Netherlands) came closest at 33.4 seconds down. She, too, would stay in the hot seat until the final wave. Disappointed, Van Dijk told Ella CyclingTips that she had had a slow leak in the rear tyre and experienced brake rubbing.
Germany’s Trixi Worrack, also in the second wave, settled into the third place.
Still in the hot seat two hours after she had finished, Armstrong’s shot at winning was looking pretty good. But her main competitors had yet to come.
The tide started to turn when Villumsen stormed through the first timecheck, besting Armstrong’s time for the first time that day. She continued to increase her pace, growing the gap to over 10 seconds by the second check.
Van der Breggen meanwhile had rolled down the ramp at a blistering speed, posting an even better time split than Villumsen. Aussie Katrin Garfoot was also flying through the course and Brennauer hadn’t even started yet.
Suddenly the race was wide open.
Villumsen steadily increased her gap and eventually came across the line 20.58 seconds ahead of Armstrong, dethroning her from the hot seat.
In almost surreal fashion, she would sink lower and lower in the standings as Garfoot also bested Armstrong’s time, just 9.32 seconds behind Villumsen. Garfoot, riding her best race and season yet, couldn’t enjoy the second place long, however, as Van der Breggen almost unseated Villumsen but came just two short seconds short.
All eyes were now on Brennauer, the last rider to finish.
“Every minute in the hot seat is long,” commented Villumsen. “And waiting for everyone to finish is hard.”
Coming through the first timecheck in sixth place, Brennauer continued to gain time throughout the course. Even after the third timecheck, she didn’t seem to be a gold medal threat. But as she came around that last corner onto the long, finishing straight, everyone was holding their breath. She had gained enough time and was going for gold.
In the end, she came a mere 5.26 seconds short –good for the bronze medal.
“I am pretty happy with my strategy,” commented Brennauer. “Last year it was my big strength to do a strong final. That was my strategy again today. I gained time in the end and I tried to stay with my strategy.”
“I was pretty motivated after Sunday’s race. I had a gold medal in my pocket and that was a nice start to the week of championships. I was pretty confident,” Brennauer continued. “From the beginning on, I expected a very tight race and a big battle for the medals. We didn’t have many races in which so many of the contenders started in time trials. It was quite hard to judge who would be in good form and who not. What you could tell was that there were a lot of people here that could win the medal today”
Villumsen credited her switch to an American trade team for coming into the race prepared and motivated.
“I had a very different year from the other years. I went to try something new and get my motivation high. I was doing crits and racing in an American team environment has been really good for me and I have really enjoyed it,” she said.
For Van der Breggen, the quest for gold continues. Her Rabo Liv team time trial squad had a disappointing third place finish on Sunday and today was extremely close miss. Van der Breggen now looks to Saturday’s road race.
“I now have a bronze medal a silver medal. The rainbow jersey, of course, is the most beautiful jersey there is,” she said. “I hope to do well in the road race and together with the Dutch team, I think we are ready for it. It’s going to be an exciting race.”
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