Time trial top target for cyclist Linda Villumsen
MARK GEENTY IN LONDON
Those in the know are talking up her medal chances, but Linda Villumsen was playing it very low key on the eve of her Olympic cycling debut in New Zealand colours.
The 27-year-old Dane, who became a New Zealand citizen in 2009, was earmarked by Bike NZ's high performance manager Mark Elliott as the best medal hope among the 22-strong cycling squad.
But that is unlikely to happen tonight when Villumsen lines up as the solitary Kiwi in the 140km women's road race (11pm NZT), two laps of the circuit which starts and finishes in historic surrounds at The Mall. The time trial, in which she's finished third at the past two world championships, is her big hope, on Wednesday night.
Still, she's no slug in the road race, having finished fifth in Beijing in 2008 when riding for Denmark. She was in a breakaway group four years ago and hoped it might be the case again tonight. If it comes down to a bunch sprint, she's unlikely to be featuring.
"It's a good way to have your final preparation and take out the tension in your legs for Wednesday's race. But it's also an opportunity to see if I can maybe sneak in the right break or sneak in at any other stage in the race," Villumsen said.
"I wouldn't say medal, but I'll see how it goes. You never know."
The top teams are restricted to four riders, while New Zealand have just one allocated spot. Villumsen identified the favourites as Swede Emma Johanssen, the Beijing road race silver medallist, and Dutch superwoman Marianne Vos, who won gold in the points race on the track in 2008.
While Villumsen may not be sighted tonight, all eyes will be trained on her when she sets off on her 29km time trial at Hampton Court Palace on Wednesday.
After an excellent European season for her Orica GreenEdge team, including individual time trial wins in Spain and Italy and the overall Giro de Trentino title, Villumsen felt she was riding better than last year, when she finished third in the world champs in Copenhagen.
"I'm confident but there's a lot of good riders around, and a lot who have come back from retirement to do the time trial and they're very strong [such as American Kristin Armstrong and Canadian Clara Hughes]. They haven't been racing much in Europe, just in the US and Canada so we'll see how they go."
Villumsen arrived in the New Zealand section of the athletes' village with her cycling team-mates on Thursday. She's ready to do the job for her adopted country, which she fell for after doing a student exchange year in Auckland. "We had a warm welcome to the village and it was incredible. It was a good feeling."
- © Fairfax NZ News