"Unfortunately, satisfaction is linked partly to results"
Emma Pooley (Great Britain) fell just short of the podium at the elite women's time trial at the road world championships at the end of a gripping contest between Eijsden and Valkenburg on Tuesday.
A time trial can often struggle to carry the same kind of suspense in a stand-alone setting as it does in a stage race, but the undulating Limburg course gave rise to a fierce contest between Pooley, Judith Arndt (Germany), Evelyn Stevens (United States) and Linda Villumsen (New Zealand).
At the first time check after 10.7km, Pooley, Stevens and Villumsen were locked within 1.5 seconds of one another, while the eventual winner Arndt was herself just six seconds ahead. The rolling central section and the final haul up the Cauberg eventually saw the gaps between to open, however, and when the dust settled, Pooley found herself in 4th place, 50 seconds down on Arndt and just nine behind the third-placed Villumsen.
"I'm disappointed, I gave everything," Pooley said quietly, when asked if fourth place was the cruellest position at a major championship. "No, I think finishing in last place is worse, but it is disappointing, especially when it's nine seconds. I was close, but I don't think I really could have gone much faster."
Pooley's dejection and fatigue were apparent as she recovered from her effort, gingerly walking from the team boxes to the mixed zone, but she acknowledged that she could take some solace from the eventual margin of her defeat.
"It was enough time so that there wasn't one point where I could say, 'oh yeah, I didn't go fast enough there' - I must have just been slower the whole way around," Pooley said. "The winner was faster and that's the way it is."
When a British journalist commented on the quality of her opposition, he was given short shrift. "What, did you think they were all shit or something? Of course they're talented, they're the best in the world," she said.
In the build-up to the Worlds, Pooley revealed that she was considering taking a year off from the sport, in part due to her desire to complete her doctoral studies. The immediate aftermath of a time trial effort is hardly the time for sweeping announcements, and Pooley kept her counsel when pressed on her plans for 2013. She did admit, however, that she had been frustrated by her near misses in 2012, which included a sixth place finish in the Olympics time trial.
"I've made as many sacrifices if not more than the year before and I've put as much if not more into this year," she said. "Unfortunately, satisfaction is linked partly to results and I don't feel as if I've had the results that I wanted, so it's a bit disappointing. I do feel like I haven't improved this year. If anything, I've 'de-proved' and that's de-motivating."
On the eve of the race, Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins hinted that he would be interested in helping to establish a British-sponsored professional women's team. "I think it's great what Brad says, because when he speaks, people listen," Pooley said. "Anyone I talk to who watches women's racing thinks it's really exciting, it just doesn't get seen. Maybe if enough people who watched the women's road race write to Sky or BBC saying 'we want to watch women's racing,' it will get on TV and that can only be good for everyone."
On Saturday, Pooley lines up as part of a strong British team in the women's road race, where all eyes will be on home favourite Marianne Vos, who won a thrilling road race at the London 2012 Olympics by outsprinting Pooley's teammate Lizzie Armitstead.
With eight ascensions of the Bemelerberg and the Cauberg on the menu at the weekend, however, Pooley has a chance to put a different slant on her season on a course that may well play to her strengths.
"But it suits Marianne as well," Pooley said. "You've always got a chance of beating her, although I don't know if I'm the right person to ask, I haven't beaten her yet this year."
- World championships