After years of podium heartbreak, Linda Villumsen finally feels like a genuine winner.
New Zealand’s top woman road cyclist broke a string of minor medals in major events to crack it for Commonwealth Games gold, beating England’s Emma Pooley by six seconds in a thrilling 29.6km time trial.
Silver medallist in Delhi four years ago, and an agonising fourth by less than 2sec at the London Olympics, Villumsen couldn’t hide her delight after hauling back an 8sec deficit at the 23.2km mark.
"It means more than anyone can describe, I reckon. It’s something we’ve worked towards for the last four years and every year I’ve been nearly there, nearly there at worlds,” she said.
“It’s a confidence boost I just can’t describe. It’s hard being there but not quite. So finally making it, I’m really happy.”
Villumsen was recognised as one of the world’s foremost time triallists and had a remarkable run at world championships, finishing second in 2011 and 2013, and third in 2010 and 2012.
“It’s a bit of a smack in the confidence when you start and you think you can win and you see your name and it’s second third or fourth. When you see your name with a one on it, I couldn’t quite believe it. I’m like, did I really? It’s amazing.”
New Zealander Jaime Nielsen rode strongly to finish fourth, 16sec behind Australian bronze medallist Katrin Garfoot, while the other Kiwi Reta Trotman was 11th.
Villumsen snared New Zealand’s 13th gold of these Games as she zipped around in 42min 25.46sec while Pooley clocked 42:31.49 on a tricky course doused by light rain.
Pooley was second-last off the line, followed 1min later by Villumsen, and they were hard to separate throughout. Pooley, set to retire from the road after these Games, was strong on the long stretches while Villumsen’s ability on the tight, technical sections saw her make up time.
At the 17.1km mark Pooley had her nose in front at 24:06.99, just 1.30sec in front of Villumsen and more than 30sec clear of third-placed Kate Archibald of Scotland. Then Pooley took charge and had 8sec to spare at the final split before Villumsen put the foot down as the course moved back to the central city. She zoomed into Glasgow Green and finished the job in style.
On paper it seemed a match race between Villumsen and Pooley, the latter having won the 2010 world championship, finished second at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 then sixth in London four years later.
Villumsen, 29, competed for Denmark at the 2008 Olympics then gained New Zealand citizenship the following year. Her list of minor medals at major championships left the impression that surely she had to crack the top tier of the podium soon.
The London Olympics provided perhaps her biggest disappointment when she was 1.83sec off the bronze medal. The disappointment took some time to shake off.
“After the Olympic Games I struggled a bit to find a proper gear again. It just didn’t feel right,” she said in an interview last year.