As Joelle Numainville entered the media zone after Sunday’s rain-soaked Olympic women’s road race, all she wanted was a towel and a chance to catch her breath.
Clara Hughes arrived seconds later, a dark smudge under her chin like she had been looking up a wet chimney. Her wish list included dry clothing and a chance to get the dirt out of her eye.
And yet after a 140-kilometre trek in miserable conditions, a smiling, shivering Hughes was effervescent.
“It was epic. It was awesome, though,” said the six-time Olympian, who placed 32nd on the day.
“There were so many people on the course. We were wondering if people would come out and watch the women’s race, it was amazing. I can’t say enough about the support in the pouring rain.”
Hughes ran the gamut of emotions.
“It was terrifying,” she continued. “It was like really technical and the roads were pretty slippery. Crashes. I mean racing in the rain is not fun. This is like three out of three Olympic road races for me in the rain.”
Numainville, from Laval, Que., finished 12th despite crashing after losing control trying to avoid another fallen rider with 10 kilometres remaining.
“It was really slippery and it was really hard in the rain,” said Numainville, who had to take several gulps of air before she could talk. “I felt like my tire was slipping on a couple of corners. I crashed, it’s part of the game.
“It was so hard, but it was good racing.”
Denise Ramsden of Yellowknife placed 27th.
Dutch star Marianne Vos won gold, ahead of Britain’s Lizzie Armistead and Russia’s Olga Zabelinskaya.
Hughes, a native of Winnipeg who makes her home in Glen Sutton, Que., has another chance to become Canada’s most decorated Oympian when she competes in the individual time trial. Hughes and speedskater Cindy Klassen both have six medals.
“I’m just really happy with how I felt today more than anything. I’m 100 per cent ready for Wednesday,” said Hughes, herself a former Olympic speedskater.
The 39-year-old spent much of the race at the front of the peloton. But she suffered from some misfortune when the key break came.
“I was there when it went and I took a gamble. When Zabelinskaya went, I was like if ‘I go with here everyone’s going to be on my wheel.’ So I waited. And then when Armistead went with Vos and [American Shelley] Olds, I kind of got caught behind one of the other Americans who almost crashed. And then that was it, I lost my speed.
“I don’t know if I could have gone with them, but I’m just really happy with how I felt today more than anything. So [I’m] 100 per cent ready for Wednesday.”
Hughes won two bronze medals in cycling (road race and individual time trial) from the 1996 Games in Atlanta and a gold, silver and two bronze in long-track speedskating from the 2002, 2006 and 2010 Winter Games.
On the domestic front, Hughes is a remarkable 35-time national champion in road and track cycling and speed skating.
Hughes was hard to miss Sunday, with her neon orange Specialized bicycle and matching helmet.
Before the race, coach Denise Kelly said the Canadian team “had several cards to play” in terms of strategy with Numainville’s sprinting prowess and Hughes’ ability to exploit a breakaway. Ramsden’s main role was to support the other two.
Unlike the men’s road race Saturday, when Canada just had Ryder Hesjedal in the field and coach Gordon Fraser shared a team car with Russia and Austria, Canada had its own car for the women’s race.
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