When the winning breakaway escaped the peloton with 50km remaining in the women's road race at the 2012 Olympic Games, all of the USA cheered because in the very promising escape was sprinter and Chongming World Cup winner Shelley Olds. But the excitement turned to heartbreak for Olds and her country as a puncture put her out of the move 20 kilometers later.
Olds had a slow wheel change and ended up back in the peloton, and at the finish she was crushed with the knowledge that she had been in the winning breakaway only to have ill fortune ruin her shining chance at an Olympic medal. Soaked to the skin and shivering from the cold, Olds overcame her sorrows to take a moment to speak with Cyclingnews about her race.
"I'm really emotional right now. I was there. I knew that was the time, I knew Vos was going to go and I was on her wheel and I was there," she said, choking back tears. "Then I flatted and that was it. My race was over.
"I tried to stay focused to see if maybe [the break] would come back, but I was pretty sure that was the winning move. So it's devastating to know that you were there in the Olympic Games, but that's bike racing."
The support cars were not quick enough with the wheel change to give Olds a chance to get back into the breakaway, but at the speeds that eventual winner Marianne Vos and her companions were moving there was little chance at bridging any gap for any rider.
"When I was in the breakaway, they were riding hard. It was hard to be in the breakaway," she said. Her flat tire was not changed quickly, and she had to fight to get back onto the peloton. "I thought that if Germany and Italy weren't represented, and when my team found out I wasn't in the break anymore that we could bring it back, but it was just horrible conditions. It was not an easy course to chase on."
Olds is now left to ponder what could have been instead of celebrating a top result in the Games. But she vowed to hold her head up high with the knowledge that she did everything right, it was only luck that spoiled her plans.
"For me, Vos was the rider. She's the number one in the world, and it was hers to win or lose. I put all of my cards into marking Vos. I don't want to consider myself just a sprinter, I want to be a rider who can handle climbs and hard races. I don't want to be titled a sprinter. I enjoy racing aggressively.
"Lizzy's my [trade] teammate and I have a lot of respect for her. I knew she was strong today. As soon as we started to roll, she was on it. Vos was the one who instigated the move, and as soon as we had separation, Lizzy was the one who drove it.
"It was primarily Lizzy and Vos who made it stick, and I was doing my best to roll through. It was a hard attack and I was trying to recover in the beginning. Olga was there, and she's always strong and steady. It was a perfect breakaway."
Olds knew winning a medal would not be easy, but until her flat she at least had a chance. "It would have been difficult. I know all three riders pretty well. Two have been my teammates, one now [Armitstead] and one last year [Zabelinskaya]. So I knew what strengths and weaknesses each rider had. I was just feeling them out in the
break and seeing what I was going to do in the end. I think I had a good chance at a medal."
Asked whether or not the world championships could prove to be a chance at redemption, Olds seemed to brighten. "It's a hard time to speak about it, but I'll pick my head back up. I can be satisfied that I made the winning move in the Olympic Games. Bad luck is part of cycling and it happened to me today.
"It's so devastating. I saw that moment in my head, and I was there ..."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news. A swimmer in her younger days, Laura made the change to cycling later in life, but was immediately swept up by a huge passion for the sport. Riding for fitness quickly gave way to the competitive urge, and a decade of racing later she can look back on a number of high profile races and say with confidence, "I started". While her racing days are over for the most part, she continues to dabble in cyclo-cross and competing against fellow pathletes on the greenways of Raleigh, North Carolina.
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