Saturday, August 30, 2008

Beijing Olympic 2008 The Mountain Bike Cross-country Races

The Mountain Bike Cross-country races concluded the cycling events at the olympics in Beijing, with both the women and the men racing on Saturday, with the heat and humidity causing many to wilt. Julien Absalon (France) is the first man to successfully defend his Olympic title, while Sabine Spitz (Germany) became the third woman to win the gold medal. The new Olympic champions were the dominant riders in both races, leading from the first lap. Sabine Spitz (Germany) took the women's title, while Julien Absalon (France) became the first man to successfully defend the Olympic mountain bike title. The weather was possibly the best seen thus far in Beijing for the Games, with blue skies, a slight breeze and temperatures in the low 90s. The ground was almost completely dried out from the soaking two days earlier (which had postponed the women's race for a day, leaving a hard and fast track. The women did six laps and the men eight on the 4.5 kilometre course.

Georgia Gould (USA) took the early lead as the field of 30 riders hit the first climb, with favourites Marie-Helene Premont (Canada), Spitz, world champion Marga Fullana (Spain) and Irina Kalentieva (Russia) all in the top ten. The Chinese duo of Ren Chengyuan and Liu Ying were both caught up in a crash towards the back of the field at the start, but started to make their way up to the front within a lap, with Liu sporting a bloody knee.

Premont and Fullana went to the front on the first long climb, but Spitz was already surging, passing them both and moving into the lead by the end of the lap. The 2003 world champion had a 21 second gap over a group containing Premont, Fullana, Kalentieva and Maja Wloszczowska (Poland). Catharine Pendrel (Canada), the winner of the last World Cup before the Games was also moving to the front, just eight seconds down on the chase group. Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Norway), the defending champion, was struggling back in midfield, and would drop out on lap four.
So far, it could have been almost any World Cup, with a lone leader chased by the rest of the serious contenders. However, the race dynamic changed drastically, when Premont dropped out on lap two and Fullana a lap later.
"I was feeling very good on the first lap; my legs felt good, I felt perfect," Premont said afterwards. "On the second lap I had to stop because of riders in front of me on the steep downhill, and walk it. When I got back on my bike, my pulse was very high and I could not breathe properly, even after I stopped. It is only the second time I have ever quit a race, but this was my health, I couldn't do anything else."
Fullana said the problem was from the previous night, "I didn't feel very well, I had a bit of a stomach problem, and so I was not having my best day. It was not the heat, it was not the weather, I was just having a bad day, so I decided to quit after the second lap."

Spitz continued to power away from her rivals at the front, with Wloszczowska moving into second and Pendrel joining her, and with Kalentieva and Liu just behind them. But the gap was already approaching a minute, so it was fast becoming a race for the remaining medal spots.

By lap three Wloszczowska had pulled away from Pendrel and Kalentieva for a solid lock on the silver medal, with the Canadian and Russian battling it out for the bronze. Pendrel was leading by a few seconds, but Kalentieva always had her in sight, and looked to be waiting for the opportune moment to pounce.
That moment didn't come until the last lap, when Pendrel fumbled a shift, allowing the 2007 world champion to get by and claim the final medal, by a slim nine second margin.

"Irina and I were together for most of the last lap. There was one little 'popper' climb before the final descent, and I made an error there. I tried to downshift to my granny [gear] on the steepest part, and had to put my foot down, and that's when she got by me. It hurts, but it was still a fantastic ride for me, and I feel that I didn't lose third, I won fourth."
For Spitz it was an extremely gratifying win. "I felt pure joy that I had finally achieved this goal after so many years of hard work. Winning the gold medal at the Olympics is the crowning glory of a career.""Almost from the beginning I was able to be at the front and set the speed of the race. This meant that I was able to set my own rhythm, and ride my own race."
Wloszczowska saw her silver as vindication for a few seasons of struggling. "This year and the last one were not what I expected or planned for, after medals in 2004 and 2005. Last year I had many crashes, because I think I wanted too much to be at the front all the time. This year was also a problem for me, because I made mistakes and overtrained. But always the focus was Beijing, and I did all I could to get my best form for here."
Mary McConneloug was the top American finisher, with a solid seventh place, 5:23 behind Spitz. Georgia Gould was one spot behind her, in eighth.
"Oh my God, it was really hot!" exclaimed McConneloug. "In these conditions you can't go too hard off the front, or the heat will take its toll. I was saving my legs for the last few laps, and it paid off; I was hoping for top ten, but seventh feels like the top of the world."

by Rob Jones/Canadian cyclist

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