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London 2012 Olympic Games Women’s MTB XC Report & PHOTOS – Bresset Reigns Supreme

by Laura Robinson

August 11, 2012 (London, UK) – France’s Julie Bresset rode a brilliant and powerful race to become the Olympic Queen of Mountain Biking on a hot, dusty, dry course in Essex County, east of London. The U23 world champ was chased by the ageless Sabine Spitz of Germany, the defending 2008 Olympic champion who will be forty-one years of age in December.

Spitz rode strong to take the silver at 1:02 back, while America’s Georgia Gould, who stayed with Spitz from the third lap of six laps plus a short start loop, was rewarded with bronze at 1:08 behind. Fourth went to Russia’s former world champ, Irina Kalentieva, at 1:41 while Esther Suss of Switzerland was 5th at 1:54. Sweden’s Alexandra Engen had an incredible second half moving from 14th to 6th overall at 2:16.

Reigning Elite Women’s world champion, Canadian Catharine Pendrel, was uncharacteristically not on form finishing 9th at 3:36 back while teammate Emily Batty, riding with a broken collarbone sustained four days earlier while training, finished 24th. Pendrel went into the race as the favourite along with Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa as the #2 rider. But neither were factors in the final outcome as Dahle Flesjaa, 39, first crashed in a rocky section and eventually suffered a rear tire puncture in Lap 3 and DNF’d.

The race course totaled 29.26km beginning with a short 0.44km start loop followed by one lap at 4.72km and five laps at 4.82km. Each lap consisted of 172 metres of elevation, with a particular rocky section called Triple Trouble, that caused more than a few crashes before and during the race. Much of the course was exposed to windy, hot temperatures.

“It’s definitely not what I expected and not what I hoped for,” said a subdued Pendrel post-race. “I’m sorry – everyone in B.C. got up at 4:30am to watch me. It’s just what you have for the day of the race that matters. Every effort I made [out there] the other girls rallied.

“I thought I was going alright but girls just kept passing me. I felt the first two laps were too slow. My husband [on the course] told me we were slow. Normally I’m really aggressive out of the saddle – I don’t know if I used up all of my energy getting ready for this race. Mentally it’s always hard when you’re not yourself. You fight it. I’ve never gone backward in a race like that before.”

Indeed Pendrel was in a break for the first two laps with Bresset and Great Britain’s Annie Last who had a strong start, along with Spitz as the four formed a lead group. Pendrel challenged Bresset for the lead but couldn’t hold the pace. By the third lap Last, was also feeling her early surge and dropped back to 5th. Meanwhile Gould, who sat in 9th place on the first lap, overtook Last and moved up to Spitz’s wheel in fourth.

At the start of Lap #3 Bresset and Spitz were leading and soon Gould took over third passing her Luna teammate Pendrel who was not her usual self dropped back to ride with Kalentieva’s group that included Switzerland’s Suss, and Last. Pendrel continued to struggle getting passed on Lap #4 by Poland’s Aleksandra Dawidowicz and Engen who made her move on Lap #5, dropping Pendrel, Dawidowicz, and Last as well.

Meanwhile Bresset was a high-speed French train at the front with her unrelenting pace. She held the top position almost from the start and never let up  pushing the pace yet looking relaxed and able to absorb everything the course threw at her. She gapped Spitz and then while chasing the German crashed on a rock garden on the fourth lap holding up Gould as well, while Bresset began to ride away.

Then Gould passed the defending Olympic champ and the real race was on for silver. But Spitz recovered quickly and retook her lead which she would not relinquish… but by now Bresset was out of reach.

“I’m very happy. It’s amazing to win today,” said Bresset, the reigning U23 World Champion. “I hoped to win a medal and a gold medal is unbelievable. I started well, I took the front of the race and I managed it well. When I had a gap I told myself; ‘Now, I should go.’ I led until the finish and I’m very content.”

Like many of the racers, Bresset’s family was on the race course, something she said was wonderful, but she also gave “a big kiss to all the people who followed me, to the French team, who supported me for the whole season.” Bresset also mentioned she had been under a “big pressure” – like many others including Pendrel.

Spitz was elated with her finish. She crashed on the same rocky section that took out Batty in her training run but she recovered almost instantaneously, running with her bike, but lost critical time on Bresset, who, at the end of the lap had gained 33 seconds on the two-woman chase group.

Spitz talked about her crash after the race. “In the fourth lap when I went over the handlebar, I hurt my knee a bit. That broke my rhythm for a short time. Thank God nothing was wrong with my bike, so I could keep on going. Georgia passed me on that lap, but I could stay on her tail until I could recover my rhythm, that was a good thing. In the last lap, I gave everything I could. It has to be that way, because if you do not do that, then you’re in the wrong place.”

Spitz  continued. “Now I have the complete collection. After bronze in Athens, gold in Beijing, I’ve got silver, so I am very satisfied. I always had a medal in my mind.”

Gould, who got caught behind slow riders on the mini start lap of the start/finish area before the regular laps, worked hard to get to the front, moving from 23rd position, up to 9th by the end of the first lap; then 4th and finally on Lap #3 was up on Spitz’s wheel, but was never really able to overtake her. Her splits on Lap #2 and #3 show she had the fastest lap times of the competition as she flew to the lead chase group.

After talking about her bad start and the effort it took to catch the chase group behind Bresset, Gould said, “I was trying to be a little bit conservative, too. I didn’t want to take too many risks. I’ve had some races this season when things were going really well then some bad luck or a little mistake cost me the race, so I just tried to keep it together to the finish. I was just so glad I was able to.”

Batty, who came in as a top-10 rider, meanwhile said she only had 10% of her capacity on the descents, which cost her dearly. Her training crash four days earlier occurred when she hit a particular rock with too much speed. It was on the same stretch of rocks that took out Dahle Flesjaa. “I’m feeling like my heart is broken. I’ve trained for this for two years, for this day. My coach put every ounce of energy for this day, as I have. Out there were all the emotions,” said Batty, referring to the race course.

It was a disappointing day for the Canadian camp as Cycling Canada kept Batty’s injury quiet until just before the race, asking journalists not to write about it so other riders would not have a psychological advantage – read the official statement here. In the end Batty was given the green light to ride and she did her best under the circumstances.

“I didn’t want my dream to pass me. I’m extremely proud to be here for Canada. The Olympics take 200% on your side and I was only descending at 10% of my capacity. Despite the circumstances I was not going to not compete. It’s about strength and pride.”

Full results HERE.





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