August 27, 2004 — Canada’s Marie-HÃ©lÃ¨ne PrÃ©mont capped off an outstanding world cup season with a fabulous effort and the Olympic silver medal in this 5-lap, 31.3 km race in hot, dry and dusty conditions. She was first amongst the riders who were racing for a spot on the podium, given that Gunn-Rita Dahle from Norway simply rode away from the field in yet another stunning victory as she has all season.
This is Dahle’s 6th win this season, and it was done in spectacular fashion, even with mechanical difficulty with her derailleur when she hit a rock, but it did not stop her from completing the course in 1:56:51. PrÃ©mont, who had the race of her life, finished 00:59 seconds back in 1:57:50. Germany’s Sabine Spitz took the bronze, after catching Canada’s Alison Sydor with two laps to go, and finished 2:30 behind Dahle in 1:59:21. Sydor held onto 4th in 1:59:47, 26 seconds out of the medals. It was, she admitted later, the worst positon for an athlete to be in.
Sydor brought years of experience to the very technically demanding race, and she and Premont went straight from the gun in a two-woman break. The conditions were so dry that riding behind anyone produced clouds of dust. There were some crashes on a particular corner that caused short-lived pile ups that slowed down riders in the pack.
Soon after they broke, Dahle joined them, and the three rode as a team for most of the first lap, but by the end of the first lap, Dahle had a 35 second lead over Premont, while Sydor had fallen off Premont’s pace and was 0:36 seconds behind her teammate. Dahle increased her lead, while Premont increased hers over Sydor. Meanwhile, lap by lap, Spitz was moving up on Sydor, and by lap four had moved into 3rd place, 26 seconds ahead of Sydor.
The riders finished in this order, with no one from the field””that had split up considerably””challenging, and while Dahle’s ride was phenomenal, Premont’s must be seen in a similar context. She tied Dahle for the fastest last lap in 23:26. Her excellent performance can be better understood when you consider that she only started riding for Canada in 2001. She was 5th at the 2003 MTB Worlds in Switzerland, and had three podium finishes in 2003/04 World Cups.
Canada’s third rider, Kiara Bisaro finished 15th, midway through the 30-woman field with a time of 2:09:50, 12:59 down on Dahle. Because Sydor and Premont had competed in Europe in the fall of 2003 and raced UCI races that would contribute to national team points, Canada had earned enough UCI points to qualify three riders for Athens. Poland was the only other team with the maximum amount of riders.
“Marie-Helene and I are a team,” said Sydor after the race. Both cyclists race for Rocky Mountain/Business Objects. “I’ll be around for sure next year. It’s motivation for me to have another Canadian athlete at this level.” She was there for Lori-Ann Muenzer’s gold medal win as well and said that s Muenzer was “Inspiring. It’s important to be a part of the whole experience.”
Meanwhile, Dahle could barely control her tears after the medal ceremonies. “It’s an incredible day for me, even though I’ve been winning a lot this year. I want to enjoy my Olympic gold with Norway and all the other mountain bikers in the world.”
Premont simply could not stop smiling, and she said she knew she was ready for this race. “I was in good form” she said on the way to the medal ceremony. “I’ve had good feelings about this all week, with good sleep and good support. I had no stress before and during the race. The race was not so hard and that was something that gave me more confidence for a positive result.”
Sydor pointed out the significance of having two Canadian women in the top four. Falling on the heels of Muenzer’s performance, and a strong 11th place by Sue Palmer-Komar on the road, there is no question that once again, the Canadian women’s cycling team continues to be one of the strongest in the world.
1. DAHLE Gunn-Rita (NOR) 1:56:51
2. PREMONT Marie-Helene (CAN) 0:59
3. SPITZ Sabine (GER) 2:30
4. SYDOR Alison (CAN) 2:56
5. van ROOY-VINK Elsbeth (NED) 4:50
6. WLOSZCZOWSKA Maja (POL) 5:17
7. KRAFT Ivonne (GER) 8:27
8. LEBOUCHER Laurence (FRA) 8:43
9. McCONNELOUG Mary (USA) 9:21
10. MATHISON Lisa (AUS ) 10:10
11. SZAFRANIEC Anna (POL) 10:53
12. FLORIT Jimena (ARG ) 11:51
13. KALENTIEVA Irina (RUS) 12:06
14. JUNGMEIER Barbel (AUT) 12:31
15. BISARO Kiara (CAN) 12:59
16. WONG Robyn (NZL) 14:08
17. MA Yanping (CHN) 16:27
18. MOURAO Jaqueline (BRA) 17:01
19. LEUMANN Katrin (SUI) 19:16
20. OSTERGREN Maria (SWE) 19:25
21. McCAULEY Jenny (IRL) –1 lap
22. NAKAGOME Yukari (JPN) –1 lap
23. MATAMOROS Karen (CRC) –1 lap
24. SOFOCLEOUS Elina (CYP) –2 laps
FULLANA Marga (ESP) DNF
SADLECKA Magdalena (POL) DNF
BLATTER Barbara (SUI) DNF
ANDERSEN Mette (DEN) DNF
PEZZO Paola (ITA) DNF
STEVKOVA Janka (SVK) DNF