Hughes on target for a podium in London 2012

Clara Hughes answered the question hanging over her heading into the world road cycling championships in Copenhagen — and she answered it in her typical emphatic fashion.

Yes, she’s ready to challenge for the Olympic podium again at the 2012 London Games.

The six-time Olympic medallist answered any doubts in her first time back at the event since 1999, finishing fifth in a soggy and windy women’s time trial. It was a great day for Canada as two-time defending world omnium (multiple events) champion Tara Whitten of Edmonton was fourth and 35-year-old rookie Rhae-Christie Shaw of Amherstburg, Ont., was an impressive seventh.

“I’m coming away with a reality check,” said Hughes. “Not that I need one, but I find it really motivating. I have a lot of work to do. But I’m also excited because I think this shows I have the potential to be one of the best on the days where it counts.”

That day could come as early as Saturday’s road race, given the strength Canada showed as a team in the time trial.

“We have a lot of cards to play,” said Hughes. “It’s an exciting thing to think about for the road race, how we’re going to race this race and how we’re going to bring out some more really good results and maybe step up onto that podium. I think it’s entirely possible.”

Germany’s Judith Arndt, a perennial bridesmaid at the event, finally got to the top of the podium with her time of 37 minutes, 7.08 seconds. New Zealand’s Linda Villumsen was second, nearly 22 seconds behind, while defending champion Emma Pooley of Britain was third.

Whitten was 2.03 seconds off a medal, while Hughes, who turns 39 next week, was nearly 11 seconds behind Whitten.

“Fourth is tough, especially when it is really close, so I’m just re-living a lot of my ride and thinking about where I could have gained time,” said Whitten. “But at the same time, I have to be happy. It’s my best result ever at road worlds.”

Whitten said she will still wait until after the worlds to decide which event beside the omnium she will do in London. She plans to do some testing on the track in the next couple of days to see how her legs are feeling because she is also considering the team pursuit event on the track.

“I still have a decision to make, but this makes it a bit more interesting,” she said.

In many ways, the story of the day for Canada might have been Shaw, who gave up a great job with Microsoft in Seattle last January and switched from triathlon in order to try to make it as a full-time cyclist. She’s off to a heckuva start with her debut seventh-place finish.

“It’s a fun time in my career to be a rookie at the age of 35,” she said. “I’m only going to continue to get better. … I’m putting everything I have behind it and trying to see how good I can be.”

She also praised her teammates.

“I’m incredibly fortunate coming in as a rookie to have a world champion (Whitten) as your roommate and Clara Hughes on your team. What more can you ask for as far as learning opportunities? Being with the greatest in the world is one of the best ways to learn and improve.”

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