By Ben Atkins in Limoux, France
High Road team leader Judith Arndt took her team's third victory of this year's Tour de l'Aude by outsprinting her three breakaway companions in a rainy final stage at Limoux. The German former World champion proved the fastest from an echapee royale made up of the race's four favourites: race leader Susanne Ljungskog (Menikini-Selle Italia), Nicole Cooke (Great Britain) and Trixie Worrack (Nürnberger Versicherung).
Cooke officially contested the result with the race's commissaires, claiming that Arndt had moved off her line, but the head of the race jury who had been right behind the incident ruled that Arndt had kept to a straight line and it was the narrowing finishing straight that made Arndt get closer to the barriers.
The four had escaped on the main obstacle of the day, the first category Côte de Villardebelle halfway through the stage as Worrack attacked. The Nürnberger Versicherung leader was still angry at having lost her third place to Irene Van Den Broek (AA Drink) on the stage at Castelnaudary and this attack was intended to take back at least the six seconds that she needed. She was quickly followed by the other three but crucially not Van Den Broek and continued to apply the pressure right to the finish. The main peloton finished 59 seconds back.
"I think I'm having a good season so far," said Arndt to Cyclingnews, "but if you don't do good at the Olympics, the whole season was s**t, so I hope I do a good race there if I get nominated.
"Hey, but I'm not too happy about today," she continued, "because it doesn't feel to good to win like this, when somebody does protest and everything. Then I'd rather I don't win." Arndt got to sit in the breakaway as she was working in the interests of High Road team-mate Ina Teutenberg, the holder of the green points jersey. Her tactic was executed with the hope that they might be pulled back in so that Teutenberg cold win the stage and keep the jersey, but it didn't work and Teutenberg lost her points leader's jersey.
Race winner Susanne Ljungskog can finally relax as she now keeps the jersey she has held since stage four's finish in Osseja, almost a week ago. "Feels very good, I'm happy and I feel a little bit tired now!" she smiled.
With Ljungskog's main goals this season coming later, an emphatic victory such as this may be seen as peaking a bit too early. For Ljungskog though, the result comes simply as a morale boost on the long road towards those objectives. "I don't think I'm too good," she said, "because now I'm going home to take it easy for some days, and I will not be too happy about this because I knew that this was just a big bonus.
"I want to be the winner the Giro and I want to make a good Olympics, and for sure I want to be World champion again. That's my really big goal. This victory is very nice, but I have to be focused on the rest of the season."
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the final stage of the Tour de l'Aude.