This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Julie Bresset (France) became the 2012 Olympic champion in women's mountain biking with a commanding display at Hadleigh Farm in Essex. The French athlete was a constant presence at the front of the race, distancing her main rivals with a combination of impressive climbing and unmatchable riding on the course's rare technical sections. Sabine Spitz (Germany) finished second with Georgia Gould (United States) taking bronze.
"I'm very happy. It's amazing to win today. 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," Bresset said.
"I dedicate this win to my family, my parents who were here in the tribune. A big kiss to all the people who followed me, to the French team, who supported me for the all season."
On the nearly five-kilometre course, which was raced for six laps, it was home favourite Annie Last (Great Britain) who set the pace through the first corners on the start loop before the first climb. As the field strung out, 2004 Olympic gold medallist Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) found herself in trouble, crashing on a short descent.
Team GB's Annie Last during the Triple Trouble section of the course
Last continued to set the pace, stringing out the field in the opening sections. The British rider successfully split the opposition, dragging with her a select group of riders that included Bresset, Irina Kalentieva (Russia) and Spitz. Pre-race favourite Catharine Pendrel (Canada) briefly found herself distanced but managed to regain contact with the leaders on the main climb as a general regrouping took place.
Bresset began to stamp her authority, swapping turns with Last on the most demanding climbs. Last led Bresset as the pair began to distance their rivals but Pendrel realised the danger, single-handly leading the chase as the second lap began.
Last again put the hammer down though, dragging Bresset with her and forcing Pendrel to chase once again. The Canadian closed the gap, with Spitz the next rider in contention. Gould started the second lap less then 10 seconds down and in ninth place. Dahle Flesjaa completed the first lap down in 29th place, paying the price for her early crash.
Up ahead the contenders began to form with Pendrel and Spitz making it four leaders in the front with Bresset and Last.
Bresset was in no mood to ease off, but on the second ascent of the toughest climb it was Spitz who showed her strength with Last losing ground. However Pendrel's lack of pace was also soon exposed again, and she also lost contact for good soon after.
Bresset led through the second lap with Spitz in close attention. Gould had moved up to fourth at seven seconds while Last had dropped to fifth, 11 seconds down.
Gould was soon past Pendrel, swinging around the Canadian as she set out in pursuit of Bresset and Spitz. The American made contact with the leading pair half-way through the lap and Kalentieva overtook Last for 5th. However with the constant changes in pace and terrain, few of the gaps were sustained.
Bresset continued to apply pressure, and within half a lap the gap to the chasers had reached 21 seconds as Spitz and Gould clung on. A four-second gap appeared with the French woman showing her form on the climbs and then holding off the competition on the technical sections. The pressure caused Spitz into a mistake on the next descent and the German crashed, holding up Gould. That incident proved decisive and the two chasers would never see Bresset again.
Behind the main action, Dahle Flesjaa punctured, effectively ending any chance of her medal hopes. She abandoned the race.
By now, Bresset was driving home her advantage as Gould unsuccessfully tried to distance the suffering Spitz on the switchback section and with 3.5 laps completed, the gap between Bresset and Gould and Spitz stood at 20 seconds.
With two laps remaining, Bresset had a gap of 33 seconds over Spitz with Gould a further five seconds adrift. Kalentieva, chasing alone for much of the race, was fourth at 56 seconds with Last 1:22 down.
Any questions surrounding the French athlete's stamina were answered as she accelerated through the corners, pushing the gap to 52 seconds as Spitz and Gould looked to cement their podium places as Kalentieva hovered in the wings in fourth.
Esther Suss (Switzerland) had by now overtaken Last, with Alexandra Engen (Sweden) also coming past the home favourite.
Inside the final lap, Bresset looked in complete control but the battle for silver intensified as Gould ground herself to the back of Spitz's rear wheel. The German responded with a violent acceleration and finally dropped the American to pick up silver and complete here collection of gold, silver and bronze in her Olympic career.
"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 on my mind," Spitz said.
"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 the 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."
But it was Bresset who, holding a French flag, crossed the line first, stepping up from her 2011 under 23 world championship win to become the new Olympic champion. Spitz rode in alone for a silver medal, just ahead of Gould, who earned bronze and matched the achievement of American Susan DeMattei in 1996.
|1||Julie Bresset (France)||1:30:52|
|2||Sabine Spitz (Germany)||0:01:02|
|3||Georgia Gould (United States of America)||0:01:08|
|4||Irina Kalentieva (Russian Federation)||0:01:41|
|5||Esther Suss (Switzerland)||0:01:54|
|6||Alexandra Engen (Sweden)||0:02:16|
|7||Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland)||0:02:28|
|8||Annie Last (Great Britain)||0:02:55|
|9||Catharine Pendrel (Canada)||0:03:36|
|10||Tanja Zakelj (Slovenia)||0:03:49|
|11||Lea Davison (United States of America)||0:04:22|
|12||Qinglan Shi (People's Republic of China)||0:04:36|
|13||Yana Belomoyna (Ukraine)||0:04:54|
|14||Katerina Nash (Czech Republic)||0:05:30|
|15||Elisabeth Osl (Austria)||0:05:55|
|16||Adelheid Morath (Germany)||0:06:25|
|17||Eva Lechner (Italy)||0:06:44|
|18||Karen Hanlen (New Zealand)||0:07:02|
|19||Katrin Leumann (Switzerland)||0:07:31|
|20||Rie Katayama (Japan)||0:07:34|
|21||Janka Stevkova (Slovakia)||0:08:13|
|22||Paula Gorycka (Poland)||0:08:26|
|23||Blaza Klemencic (Slovenia)||0:08:50|
|24||Emily Batty (Canada)||0:09:45|
|25||Rebecca Henderson (Australia)||0:10:43|
|26||Pauline Ferrand Prevot (France)||0:11:29|
|27||Barbara Benko (Hungary)||0:12:32|
|28||Candice Neethling (South Africa)||0:14:11|
|DNF||Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway)|
|DNF||Laura Valentina Abril Restrepo (Colombia)|