On the face of things, a sixth place finish in a sprint with the rainbow jersey on the line constituted a disappointment for Shelley Olds (USA), but a little context never goes astray when discussing a finale as fraught as that of the elite women's road race at the World Championships in Ponferrada.
Entering the final kilometre, a four-woman group featuring the three main favourites held a small lead and they seemed set to decide the honours amongst themselves. A moment's hesitance is fatal at the Worlds, however, and improbably, the chase group swept them up in the finishing straight. Olds found suddenly herself in a sprint for the title.
"I'm disappointed in my sprint but I'm happy with today," Olds told Cyclingnews as she made her way through the mixed zone at the finish. "I hate to have it come to a sprint and then finish not in the podium but it's my best performance in the Worlds and I'm happy that I was in most of the moves today."
The fact that Giorgia Bronzini (Italy) – on paper the quickest rider in the group along with Olds – could only manage fourth in the sprint adds another layer of context to the picture, as does Pauline Ferrand-Prevot's surprise victory. After 127 kilometres of racing and a breathless final two laps, strength rather than speed was the deciding factor.
"It's not like the sprinter can sit in during a race like today, they have to work hard too," Olds said. "It comes down to whoever has the freshest legs and today we showed that it wasn't one of the pure sprinters but the person who had the freshest legs and raced the smartest in the final."
Olds had Evelyn Stevens for company in that leading group, but amid the tumult of the finale, there was precious little time to organise a lead-out. "There really is no lead-out at that point because I think everybody's legs are pretty toast," she said. "If you have teammates there then maybe one last dig is all they have and the sprinter is on their own."
Stevens had already put in a shift for Olds by setting the tempo on the climb of Confederacion earlier in the final lap, and she was again to the fore in helping the chase group peg back Marianne Vos, Emma Johansson, Elisa Longo Borghini and Lizzie Armitstead on the descent of Mirador.
"It was a dangerous move because all the big hitters were in it, but in a situation like that there's a chance they will look at one another and it will all come together," Olds said. "We were able to come back and I had Evelyn Stevens with me helping to close that gap. I wasn't too panicked because I had seen every race before us and I saw what the situation might be."
Olds had praise, too, for the efforts of Alison Powers, who was among the fallers in the mass crash on the second lap of the race, yet recovered to clip off the front of the peloton with two laps to go, a move designed to ignite the finale and help rid Bronzini et al of their teammates.
"Alison showed a lot of courage today because she had a big crash and she was torn up. She still did her job today 100 per cent so I'm really proud of the team today and how they kept fighting," said Olds. "We performed better this year than any other year.
"That big early crash affected the race in the sense that we went from seven riders to four. But beyond that, it was a nasty, nasty crash, which scared everybody but maybe in the better sense, because when it started raining later on everybody took it more easy on the descents."