August 14, 2004 (Athens, Greece) — The 118.8 km women’s race took place in wild winds that swept sand across the course. When the dust settled Australia’s Sara Carrigan was crowned with the olive wreath and had a spectacular sprint finish as she flew away from German Judith Arndt with just over one kilometre left to the finish. “It’s indescribable. It’s a big team commitment,” said Carrigan. “We had known that one of us would be on the podium, but we didn’t know which one.” She finished in 3:24:24, while Arndt took the silver seven seconds later in 3:24.31, and Russian Olga Slyusareva took bronze in a solo finish 37 seconds behind the two leaders.
Carrigan’s ride was assisted by her teammates, world cup leader Oenone Wood, who finished fourth, and Olivia Gollan. Wood and Carrigan were the only riders from the same country in the decisive break that went at approximately the 100 km mark. The Australians have been training together as a team since March in Italy. They were so cohesive as a unit says Carrigan that, “It was really going to be anyone of us today. We’ve all been feeling really strong, and really getting ready for this. We’ve had an awesome group of girls this year. We’ve been racing together and getting to know each other.”
Timing is everything, and some questioned the wisdom of Canada’s team to instruct Sue Palmer-Komar to counter-attack with about 40 km to go, into a wind, after the chase group had caught her Canadian teammate Lyne Bessette who had opened up a 25-second lead. The wind was “everywhere,” Palmer-Komar said later, adding that it was the most difficult factor in the race
The Canadian squad also had a strong and cohesive team, but soon after Palmer-Komar was told to go out on that challenging break, Bessette was involved in a crash at the end of the second last lap when the reigning Olympic champion, Dutch rider Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel, lost concentration and took three riders down. With Canada’s Manon Jutras in the second chase group and unable to assist, Palmer-Komar was left on her own to face strong winds and a strong chase group. It was an impossible situation. Bessette and Zijlaard-van Moorsel weren’t hurt badly in the crash, but both of Bessette’s wheels needed to be replaced and the Canadian car was way behind the two riders, and she waited far too long for the wheel change. She had raced quite well until the crash but had to DNF with 27 kms to go when it became apparent she could not regain her position or help her teammate.
Palmer-Komar was reeled into a chase group of eleven for the last lap, and held on as well as she could but after the race said, “It was a little too much for my legs at that point. You take what’s coming and do what you can with it. It’s always a gamble.”
While the Canadian team might be re-examining its game plan, the German team has a much larger question to address. Judith Ardnt was fined 200 Swiss francs by the UCI College of Commissaires for “Incorrect behaviour while crossing the finish line.” Arndt gave the German cycling federation the finger in retaliation for leaving Petra Rosner, who she calls the best road sprinter in the world, off the team. The dramatics at the post-race press conference proved as exciting as the race when Arndt, without looking directly at Carrigan, stated that the race, including the finish, would have been different if Rosner had been there, and that the gold medal would have gone to someone else. Carrigan showed perfect class and simply ignored the gross slight that Ardnt had insinuated.
1. Sara Carrigan (Australia) 3.24.24 (34.873 km/h)
2. Judith Arndt (Germany) 0.07
3. Olga Slyusareva (Russia) 0.39
4. Oenone Wood (Australia)
5. Nicole Cooke (Great Britain)
6. Mirjam Melchers (Netherlands) 0.42
7. Joane Somarriba Arrola (Spain)
8. Kristin Armstrong (USA)
9. Edita Pucinskaite (Lithuania) 0.46
10. Jeannie Longo Ciprelli (France) 0.59
11. Susan Palmer-Komar (Canada) 1.13
16. Deirdre “D” Demet-Barry (USA)
30. Manon Jutras (Canada)