Defending champ crashed with two laps left

ATHENS, Greece -- Sara Carrigan's tactic was questioned. The
result cannot be.

Carrigan essentially drafted off Judith Arndt for much of the
final lap, then slingshot past the German in the final straightaway
to win the gold medal Sunday in the Olympic women's road cycling

The riders battled a stiff headwind for much of the final lap,
with Carrigan tucked in behind and using Arndt as her buffer --
knowing fatigue was certain to set in. When Arndt turned her head
to see where Carrigan was, the Australian shot ahead and rolled her
way to gold.

"I knew it was the day,'' Carrigan said. "I didn't work as
hard as Judith.''

Kristin Armstrong was the top U.S. finisher, placing eighth. It
was only the third time since Connie Carpenter-Phinney and Rebecca
Twigg finished 1-2 for the United States 20 years ago at Los
Angeles that an American woman was among the top 10 at the Olympic
road race.

"I'm definitely pleased with that,'' said Armstrong, a former
triathlete who only began her competitive cycling career two years
ago. "I'd love to have come out with a medal. When you come to an
Olympics, if your mind isn't set on a medal and just on being happy
to be a participant, there's a problem.''

Arndt, who said Carrigan "did nothing'' in the final lap, was
in a no-win situation.

She pressed the last-lap pace to ensure that Carrigan's
countrywoman Oenone Wood -- a talented sprinter who was lurking in a
chase pack -- didn't get close enough to make a late pass. Yet by
doing so, she wore herself out, and Carrigan capitalized.

"The silver medal is the best that I could get today,'' said
Arndt, who was fined $162 by the International Cycling Union for
making a gesture while crossing the finish line.

Carrigan finished the 73.8-mile race in three hours, 24 minutes,
24 seconds. Arndt was seven seconds back; Russia's Olga Slyusareva
won a frantic sprint for the bronze medal.

Armstrong's U.S. teammates, Christine Thorburn and Dede Barry,
finished 15th and 16th, respectively. All three Americans were
making Olympic debuts.

"I think as a team we certainly had the ability to medal, so in
that regard we're a little bit disappointed,'' said Thorburn, who,
along with Barry, will ride in Wednesday's road time trial.

The field of 67 riders had less-arduous conditions than what the
men faced on Saturday. Temperatures were 87 degrees at race time
and barely fluctuated. It still was quite warm, but well off the
104-degree highs the men dealt with for a stretch in their race.

Clouds occasionally shielded the punishing sun, but the biggest
factor was wind, which blew steadily at 20 mph throughout the day
and often gusted stronger. It was a coolant when riders went its
way, but a major deterrent on stretches where it bore down on the
oncoming cyclists.

Riders who tried to go to the lead alone rarely lasted for long,
quickly succumbing to the added strain of being the sole person
battling the breezes.

"We were all affected by the wind,'' Slyusareva said. "We can
all confirm that the wind was strong and that it was an obstacle.''

Defending gold medalist Leontien Zijlaard-van Moorsel of the
Netherlands -- a winner of three golds in Sydney -- fell near the end
of the seventh lap in the nine-lap race, ending her chances to
repeat. She swept the road race, the time trial and the individual
pursuit in the 2000 Games.

She sat on the road for several minutes before being taken to a
hospital for evaluation, suffering from severe bruising on her
shoulder and hip. A team doctor said she was doubtful to compete in
Wednesday's time trial.

France's Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli, 45 and competing in her sixth
Olympics, finished 10th. Longo-Ciprelli, who won gold at the
Atlanta road race in 1996, is 18 years older than the field average
and nearly 26 years up on Italy's Tatiana Guderzo, who turns 20
next Sunday.