After a strong showing in the women’s road race at the UCI World Championshios, Clara Hughes is looking forward to the London 2012 Olympics, where she is aiming to ride her “best bike race yet.” The multiple Olympic medallist spent the best part of a decade out of the sport as she focused on her speed-skating career, but she returned to the highest level this season.
A bronze medallist in the time trial and road race at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Hughes went on to take four more Olympic medals as a speed-skater in the Winter Games, including gold in Turin in 2006.
The Canadian was a prominent performer at the Worlds, finishing 5th in the time trial and animating a deadlocked road race with a brave attack that was only snuffed out on the last lap. Speaking to Cyclingnews shortly after crossing the line, Hughes was pleased with her performance on a circuit that saw few riders willing to show their hand before the finishing sprint.
“I’m really stoked,” she said. “That was my first real international road race since the 2000 Olympics, so it’s nice to be back. I was kind of worried before that I’d be super sketched out in the pack, but I was fine.”
The 39-year-old admitted that she was a taken aback by the conservative tactics on show in Copenhagen, with the Dutch, German and Italian teams happy to control the race and take their chances in the sprint, which was eventually won by Giorgia Bronzini.
“I was really surprised but I’m glad at least I made a move,” Hughes said of the tactical stalemate. “It was a pretty lame race. I understand the sprinter teams, but not every nation had sprinters who could win the race. I’m surprised other nations weren’t aggressive.
“It was weird but I don’t really have anything to compare it to because I’ve been speed-skating for ten years, so I thought maybe this is how racing is, but I don’t think that was normal.”
Hughes attacked on the third last lap of the race in the hope that she could bring a group clear with her, but in the absence of reinforcements, she opted to continue alone.
“I really did not want to be out there alone, but then I just thought, ‘it’s a time trial. I’m doing another time trial at the world championships,’” Hughes said. “I thought I might not get this moment again, so I just went for it.”
Hughes took the bell with 34 seconds in hand over the chasing peloton, but even when her lead stretched out still further with 10km to go, she was under no illusions as to the scale of her task.
“With one lap to go, I just thought that if a group caught me on that climb, I could get onto the back of it and then try to recover for the finish,” she explained.
Ultimately, however, no counter attack of substance materialised on the final lap, and Hughes was swept up by the peloton with 3km to race. “I saw them coming but I’m still glad I tried. That’s all you can do, win or lose,” she smiled.
The London 2012 Olympics are the next major objective on the horizon for Hughes, but she explained that adding a cycling gold to her collection of Olympic medals was not her motivation.
“I’m not doing it for that, I’m doing it because I still believe that I have my best bike race in me,” she said. “I haven’t raced my best race on the bike yet, and I want to have that in London. That’s why I’m back, and whatever that is, it is. “