An interview with Judith Arndt, August 7, 2008
As the silver medallist from Athens in 2004 - and after a dominant first half season - Judith Arndt of Germany and Team Columbia goes into the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games race as one of the overwhelming favourites. Cyclingnews' Ben Atkins caught up with the 2004 World champion as she finishes her preparation for the biggest race of the year.
We last spoke at length to Judith Arndt back in April, after her victory in the Ronde van Vlaanderen. Since that time the she has added a stage and second place overall in the Tour de l'Aude, La Coupe du Monde Cycliste Féminine de Montréal - further extending her lead in the World Cup - three stages and the overall of Le Tour du Grand Montréal, and most recently the overall at the Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt.
This year has so far been a highly successful season, even by Arndt's standards, but she knows that the target that the whole women's peloton has been aiming at all year is the one that she will measure it against. "I'm happy for the season so far," she said. "But this year I think I would be disappointed if I wouldn't do good at the Olympics. This is the main focus and so this is something to achieve."
As well as success on the road, the off-road victory of managing to secure a title sponsor to replace T-Mobile, and one that is happy to put its resources behind both the men's and women's teams, has brought a further morale boost - and an unexpected source of humour for the German. "Of course, it's perfect; we're really happy with Columbia because everybody thinks we all come from Colombia now," she laughed. "I have met people and they asked me if I come from Colombia, it's funny."
"I think Olympic champion title has more worth than winning World championships." -Judith Arndt wants to add an Olympic gold medal to her winning tally
After a stellar start to the summer campaign, Arndt rode an uncharacteristically quiet Giro d'Italia where she barely featured in any stage finishes, choosing instead to work for team-mates Kim Anderson and Ina-Yoko Teutenberg. Nevertheless without seeming to make too much effort she finished the race in 10th position overall. The important Team Columbia statistic to come out though was Teutenberg's total domination of the sprint stages, laying down the gauntlet to Team Columbia's men's squad rider Mark Cavendish by taking four stage wins.
"I had a break after Montreal - 10 days without any riding - and then I started to build up my endurance and all I need now is racing," she explained. "That's why the Giro wasn't really good, but I've said before that it makes no sense to go for general classification for me because I won't be able to win it anyway. I think the Giro is always special, people are all of a sudden really strong and so it's hard.
"So, we tried to go for stage wins, and I think we have to be grateful that we have Ina," she laughed.
As the Athens Olympic Games silver medallist, and with that impressive list of victories this season, Arndt goes into the race in Beijing as one of the medal favourites once again. While each rider has their own view on the importance of the Olympic Games, the German holds Olympic success in high regard.
"I think it's much bigger [than other races]," said Arndt. "Because the whole event is bigger than anything we know, bigger than [the] worlds or any bike race. Because it's Olympics, and it's every sport and every good athlete from all over the world meets and tries to win medals. It's shown on TV and the whole media is there and so much more, so I think if you win a medal it's - I don't know - you can't compare with anything else."
Despite being far more professional than in previous years, the women's peloton still lags a long way behind the men's in terms of resources and publicity - not to mention the fact that the cream of the men's peloton only being admitted since 1996 due to the ban on professionals. For this reason, Arndt agrees, that the Olympics perhaps mean more to women than men.
"I don't know," she said. "Maybe, but I think really I think that soccer and men's cycling are the only exceptions, but for everyone else the Olympic champion is a title you have your whole life, so I think it's the biggest."
As one of the most experienced members of the peloton, Arndt has seen a number of developments over the years, but can testify that it still means so much. "I think it's still like that really," she explained. "In my experience at the last three Olympic games, you can't compare it with any bike race."
In all her victories, Arndt has always been quick to credit her High Road/Columbia team-mates - as have they all. In Beijing however that Columbia team will be spread across the national teams from Australia (Oenone Wood and Kate Bates), Denmark (Linda Villumsen), the Netherlands (Chantal Beltman) to name but four. On top of this, Arndt's national team will only consist of three riders: Trixi Worrack, Hanka Kupfernagel and herself.
"I will wear the German national jersey, so then this is my team - and we are three," Arndt said. "This is a little bit difficult if you are used to six or eight riders, but we have to really sit down and talk about tactics and everything. But I think we have always performed really well at Worlds or Olympics before."
Despite only numbering three riders - like the other big nations - Arndt is confident that legendary German organisation that brought her World title in 2004, Regina Schleicher's in 2005 and Worrack's silver in 2006 will come to bear in the team's quest for Olympic medals. "I'm positive about that," she said. "I mean of course it's a bit strange when my team-mates all of a sudden wear a different jersey than me, but really that's also professional.
"If you go with the German team, you race for Germany and not for Team Columbia, so that's normal," she added.
This should be even more the case than at the World championships, as there will be no sponsors allowed on the national jersey. "But that's the Olympic idea, I think," she added.
The last Olympiad saw Arndt take Olympic silver, but then Worlds gold as she took the rainbow jersey in Verona, Italy. Despite the Olympics being regarded as the ultimate prize though, she wouldn't be so keen to exchange one for the other.
"I don't know," she said. "It's hard to say. I think Olympic champion title has more worth than winning World championships, but I had so positive and overwhelming feelings when I won [the] worlds, so I don't really want to swap that. I mean, it is how it is, and it was good."
The last lap of the 2004 Olympic race in Athens saw Arndt take off and chase down the lone breakaway, Australia's eventual winner Sara Carrigan. When she caught Carrigan, Arndt rolled through and continued to ride strongly, and even put some distance on the Australian in the final climb, but Carrigan stayed on her wheel and eventually put in a decisive attack that gapped the German rider. If the situation were to repeat itself though, Arndt is not sure she wouldn't do exactly the same thing again.
"It depends how the race situation is," she explained. "Last time, Oenone Wood was in the group and so was the sprinter from Australia, so Carrigan says she doesn't work because she has Oenone in this group. And I had nobody in this group, so I had to work because otherwise I would not have won anything. If the situation is the same, it would be the same outcome; but this time if I would have somebody in this group I would think about working or not."
Once she was dropped by Carrigan - but was safely riding in for second, Arndt produced one of the most famous images of the games. Her one finger 'celebration', directed at the disorganisation within the German camp and the non-selection of Petra Rossner, might hang over a rider's career, but not Arndt. "Ach, no," she smiled. "It's so long ago. I paid my fine to the UCI and I answered all the questions, but I think still not everybody know why it happened. It's hard to explain in three sentences. But, it's so long ago and you have to go on.
"I don't know, I mean it's a feeling, you know, like everybody wants to see happy feelings and no one wants to see angry feelings," she added. "I mean it's not right to do a thing like this, but it can happen if you go to your limit and you are emotional about things."
So assuming that things run more smoothly this time around, we shouldn't see that angry Arndt crossing the line…maybe. "I don't know, probably not," she laughed. "It's emotions and it can always happen that you do something, and later you are not as emotional anymore you think: 'Oh, what have I done?' But I hope this time everything is a bit better organised with the travel and the whole week before.
"Last time everything went wrong and I had so much negative emotions inside me so I had to go out," she added. "I just hope that this time it's going to be better."
With better organisation, and with one of the more powerful trios in the race, Arndt should definitely be one of the contenders. It's clear though that she sees her main rivals for victory in the usual places. "I think you have to [look at] the Dutch team [of Marianne Vos, Chantal Beltman and Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel]," she said. "I mean that's such a strong team and I expect them to work together, so they are the ones to watch and think also the Italians [Noemi Cantele and Tatiana Guderzo]."
If all goes to plan though, Arndt's form this season will combine with German organisation and we may well see 2004 silver turn to 2008 gold.