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Clara Hughes misses podium in Olympic finale

Cyclist Clara Hughes placed fifth in the women's time trial on Wednesday in London, missing out on her bid for a Canadian-record seventh career medal in her final Olympic event.

Remains tied with speedskater Cindy Klassen at six career medals

Clara Hughes of Canada passes through the gates at Hampton Court Palace in the women's Olympic cycling time trial in London on Wednesday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Cyclist Clara Hughes placed fifth in the women's time trial on Wednesday in London, missing out on her bid for a Canadian-record seventh career medal in her final Olympic event.

Kristin Armstrong of the United States won her second straight gold medal in the event, beating Judith Arndt of Germany by more than 15 seconds.

Armstrong covered the 29-kilometre course south of London in 37 minutes, 34.82 seconds. Arndt finished in 37:50.29 for the silver, while Olga Zabelinskaya of Russia posted a time of 37:57.35 to add a bronze to the one she captured in Sunday's road race.

After a strong start in the 9.1-km section 1 of the trial, Hughes finished with an overall time of 38:28.96 seconds.

The 39-year-old was in second place when she crossed the line but was bumped down when Armstrong and Zabelinskaya finished.

Hughes told reporters after the race that she's been competing with a fractured vertebrae, suffered in a crash during a race in Gatineau, Que., in May.

"I was racing and training with a broken back for six weeks," she said.

The Winnipeg native is tied with long-track speedskating teammate Cindy Klassen with six career Olympic medals — four in speedskating over the past three Winter Games and two in cycling from the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Hughes finished a disappointing 32nd in the women's road race on Sunday after spending much of the race close to or at the front of the pack.

Yellowknife's Denise Ramsden came in 19th in the time trial.

Canada's lone competitor in the men's time trial, Ryder Hesjedal, couldn't duplicate his Giro d'Italia win from earlier this summer. The Victoria native placed 28th with a time of 56:06.18.

Armstrong back in full force

The 38-year-old Armstrong briefly retired after her triumph at the 2008 Beijing Olympics to start a family, but she hopped back on her bike after delivering a son, Lucas, in 2010.

On Wednesday, she looked as if she'd never been away.

Armstrong, a two-time world champion, had already gained a second on the field by the first time check, and by the time she reached the second checkpoint, at the 20.12-km mark, the lead had swelled to nearly five seconds.

Armstrong knew she was headed for another gold when she started to pick off riders in the run-up to the finish, including Dutch champion Marianne Vos, who won gold in the road race.

The famously stoic Armstrong let a smile slip as she crossed the finish line, slowing to a stop and then slumping over her bike. She rested just enough to catch her breath before heading to the victory stand and her second consecutive Olympic gold.

"When she stopped, she was on top. You don't lose what you've got," said Armstrong's teammate Amber Neben, who finished seventh. "You don't lose the fact that you're a great bike racer."

The mostly flat course that Armstrong turned into her own personal playground began at Hampton Court Palace, the 16th century court that was once favored by Henry VIII.

The race meandered through countryside, twice crossing the River Thames, before finishing back at the palace. Riders who were in position to medal were ushered onto so-called hot seats — three gilded thrones — to wait out the rest of the riders.

Zabelinskaya spent much of the afternoon in the lead. The Russian time trial champion was the 10th of 24 riders to leave the start tent, and posted a time that was more than two minutes better than the next-fastest had crossed the line.

All the big names were still on the course, though.

Linda Villumsen of New Zealand turned heads when she crossed the first checkpoint about a second slower than Armstrong, and the world silver medalist was still the second-fastest on the course when she reached the second time check.

She struggled over the final leg and finished fourth, less than two seconds off the podium.

Arndt was considered the biggest challenge to Armstrong after her time trial victory at the world championships, but she was only fifth at the opening time check. She managed to pick up her pace over the final 19.31 km to earn the silver.

With files from CBCSports.ca and The Canadian Press

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