After missing out on an Olympic medal in 2012 by just two seconds in the time trial, Linda Villumsen questioned whether she should dedicate another four years of her life to a discipline that had dealt her so much frustration. Four years on, she is Commonwealth champion and has the rainbow stripes as the holder of the world title.
Rio is Villumsen's third Olympic Games after making her debut in Beijing in 2008, where she finished fifth in the road race and 13th in the time trial. She goes into Wednesday's time trial as one of the favourites for gold but says that she will be content whatever the result.
"Obviously, after London that was a tough one, and I took a bit of a break from cycling and I wasn't quite sure if I should invest in another four years," she told Cyclingnews earlier this summer. "Now I can say it was probably the best thing that I could have done, Commonwealth Games and a Worlds. I couldn't have asked for more than that. Whatever comes in Rio, I'll be happy."
Villumsen, who was born in Denmark, is the only representation for the New Zealand team in the women's event as she looks to take the nation's first gold medal of the Olympic Games. Despite sounding calm and relaxed about what lies ahead, Villumsen has been preparing for this day since the end of last year. Following her victory at the World Championships in Richmond, she traveled down to Rio to scope out the course. She had another opportunity to check it out under racing speeds in the road race on Sunday but doing it under time trial conditions will be a venture into the unknown.
"It's very interesting. It's nothing like any time trial I've ever done. It's really challenging but in a good way too because it's so different we don't know what will happen," she explained. "The two climbs, especially one of them is harder than any climb I've ever seen in the time trial plus a technical descent. It's interesting in its self, but the rest of the course is a proper time trial."
So how does one prepare for something they've never done? "I do what my coach [Marco Pinotti] says. He has the knowledge, and he knows how to prepare for these things and I just have to have faith in him."
Villumsen rode a very conservative road race at the weekend, hanging back and finishing over five minutes down. She was involved in an early crash but escaped any injuries. If she does win in Rio, it will be only her second time trial victory of the season after taking the opening stage of the Joe Martin stage race in April. She hasn't had too many opportunities to show off those rainbow stripes, competing in just three individual time trials since the start of the year.
Her last outing in the rainbow jersey was the Internationale Thüringen Rundfahrt. On that occasion, she finished fifth behind some of the people she will be up against in Rio, such as former world champions Lisa Brennauer and Ellen van Dijk. The Olympic course is much better suited to her, but Villumsen believes that there will be plenty of competition for the top three spots.
"It's good to see the progression of it over the years, and more competition is always good but it makes it that bit tougher too," said Villumsen. "I think maybe the stripes will put on a little bit of pressure and people will sort of think that I can also win the Olympics. Every time trial is different, and there's not one that will be the same. Given the nature of the course and the many riders that can time trial, I don't know… I can't really look at everybody else and think about how they're going to do it. I know what I'm going to do."