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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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 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.
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.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.