Bettini, Carrigan take cycling golds

If surprise marked these Games’ first heady weekend, one example was the totally different weather greeting cyclists in the road races Saturday (for men) and Sunday (women) in cordoned-off downtown Athens. The men faced sultry conditions during their 224.4 kilometers while the women faced stiff winds in their 118.8 kilometers. Both routes were technically challenging, featuring hairpin turns, and undulating and narrow roads, past historical landmarks. Athens hosted the first Olympic road race in 1896, with Aristides Constantinidis winning on three different bikes. This year’s winning time was 5 hours, 41 minutes. The race lacked sport’s iconic figure, Lance Armstrong, a six-time Tour de France winner. It did boast German perennials, Erik Zabel and Jan Ullrich, the latter a double medalist from the 2000 Sydney Games, and tough American journeymen, Bobby Julich and Tyler Hamilton. The winner was Italy’s Paolo Bettini, with Portugal’s Sergio Paulinho taking silver. The bronze winner, Axel Merckx, is the son of cycling legend Eddy Merckx. Ullrich finished 19th, one spot behind Hamilton. Zabel finished just out of the medals in fourth. Over 60 racers did not finish. Sunday saw more drama, with defending Dutch gold medalist Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel going down in a pileup on Athinas St. The lead changed in the final lap before Aussie Sara Carrigan, shadowing Germany’s Judith Arndt, bolted to her right 200 meters before the Kotzia Sq finish, clocking in at 3 hours, 24 minutes and 24 seconds. Her German rival settled got silver, and a fine for an obscene gesture. Russia’s Olga Slyusareva was third.

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