Olympic Games: Kristin Armstrong wins gold in women's time trial

American beats Zabelinskaya to the gold, van der Breggen takes bronze

Kristin Armstrong (United States of America) made history to win her third Olympic gold medal with victory in the women's time trial in Rio Olympic Games on Wednesday. The American fought back to beat Olga Zabelinskaya (Russian Federation) by five seconds in a time of 44:26.42. The Russian, who returned to the sport in 2015 after serving an 18-month doping ban, had been leading the race at the second time check. Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands), who won gold in the women's road race on Sunday, was forced to settle for the bronze medal.

"I had a support team that believed in me, and I believed in myself," Armstrong said. "And I knew that I knew how to get in done on the day. I knew it. It was really hard, but that being said, it was the most fun Olympic experience I've ever had." 

Coming into the race Armstrong, who turns 43 a day after the race, had been among the favourites, and she started last along the 29.9-kilometre course.

Riders, set off at 90-second intervals, along the wet and windy course that included two defining climbs of Grumari, and Grota Funda.

"I've probably ridden my time trial bike in the rain more than anyone else out here," Armstrong said post-race. "So, I kind of tricked my mind and gave myself confidence, and said 'OK, just take it, everyone else has to go through this.'"

Armstrong, who won gold in both the previous two Olympic time trials – in London and Beijing – started strongly, hitting the first time check after 10 kilometres in a time of 17:07:93, five seconds faster than the nearest competitor.

However, at the second time check, at the top of the second climb of the race, Zabelinskaya had stormed into the lead, using the second climb of the race to kick-start her drive for the gold medal. She had Armstrong at two seconds at the 19.7-kilometre check, with Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) at nearly seven seconds back in third.

On the approach to the line, Zabelinskaya had a nervous wait. She had posted the best time of 44:31:97, to sit top of the leader board and when world time trial champion Linda Villumsen (New Zealand) failed to beat her, only Armstrong remained with the Russian at least guaranteed a silver.

However, Armstrong, who had been a controversial selection for the Olympic Games, stormed home to take her third gold medal, beating Zabelinskaya by five seconds and equalling Leontien van Moorsel's record of three road gold medals.

There was disappointment for former world time trial champion Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands), who finished fourth. She was in contention for the medals but a mistake in the opening half of the race saw her ride off the road and lose precious time.

Emma Pooley (Great Britain) who returned to full-time professional cycling with the Olympic time trial as her main focus had to settle for 14th place, over two minutes down on the winning time.

How it unfolded

On a course punctuated by two significant climbs, wind, wet roads and testing flat sections, pacing strategy would always be a key feature in deciding the medals in the women's Olympic Games time trial.

Among the early starters was the experienced Canadian Tara Whitten, who provided an instant indication of how the favourites would take the course, and what times they might post. Whitten, set off at a fast but steady tempo, catching France's Audrey Cordon  and riding to the top of the first time, and the first time check in a time of 17:19.17. Whitten's time was over a minute faster than some of the earlier pace-setters but a truer indication of her form came when Pooley arrived at the same point 32 seconds down.

It took until Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy) and van der Breggen (Netherlands) before Whitten's time was expunged from the top of the leader board as the likes of Evelyn Stevens, Lisa Brennauer and Katrin Garfoot all failed to make an impression.

Armstrong, though, set a blistering time on the first climb, reaching the first check in 17:12:83 almost five seconds faster than Longo Borghini, with Zabelinskaya down in fifth, 22 seconds off the American's pace.

Zabelinskaya takes the lead

At the second time check at 19.7 kilometres the general standings looked similar to the first with Whitten setting the first serious time before the same volley of contenders, including Villumsen, Longo Borghini and Van der Breggen all came through.

However, Zabelinskaya, had found her rhythm and she dialled out an unmatchable pace on the next flat section and the second climb to wipe out Armstrong's advantage and even put two seconds into the defending champion. The Russian, who could have missed the Games at one point due to her nation's predicament in the anti-doping world, hit the second time check in
32:41.02, with Armstrong in at 32:43.90 and Longo Borghini setting a time of 32:48.00.

On the final sector Zabelinskaya continued to put time into many of her rivals, almost catching Stevens, before crossing the line in 44:31.97.

Longo Borghini, however, was fading after her quick start with Van Dijk and van der Breggen both leapfrogging her. Villumsen, who was relatively consistent throughout was forced to settle for sixth, one place above Whitten.

Before Armstrong came within sight, Zabelinskaya appeared to celebrate, perhaps rejoicing her silver or expecting to hold out for gold but Armstrong would have the final say, reversing her two-second deficit into a gold-medal-winning advantage.

Full Results

#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Kristin Armstrong (United States)0:44:26.42 
2Olga Zabelinskaya (Russia)0:00:05.55 
3Anna van der Breggen (Netherlands)0:00:11.38 
4Ellen van Dijk (Netherlands)0:00:22.32 
5Elisa Longo Borghini (Italy)0:00:25.52 
6Linda Villumsen (New Zealand)0:00:28.29 
7Tara Whitten (Canada)0:00:34.74 
8Lisa Brenauer (Germany)0:00:56.20 
9Katrin Garfoot (Australia)0:01:08.61 
10Evelyn Stevens (United States)0:01:33.66 
11Alena Amialiusik (Belarus)0:01:39.31 
12Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio (South Africa)0:02:02.69 
13Karol-Ann Canuel (Canada)0:02:04.51 
14Emma Pooley (Great Britain)0:02:05.56 
15Eri Yonamine (Japan)0:02:16.67 
16Trixi Worrack (Germany)0:02:26.35 
17Lotta Lepisto (Finland)0:02:40.10 
18Kasia Niewiadoma (Poland)0:03:21.54 
19Anna Plichta (Poland)0:03:33.24 
20Hanna Solovey (Ukraine)0:03:36.93 
21Lotte Kopeckey (Belgium)0:03:43.44 
22Christine Majerus (Luxembourg)0:03:49.75 
23Ann-Sophie Duyck (Belgium)0:03:51.18 
24Audrey Cordon (France)0:05:06.45 
25Vita Heine (Norway)0:05:56.97 

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