Germany's Sabine Spitz capped a commanding display in the women's mountain bike cross country race here Saturday to claim her maiden Olympic gold.
Maja Wloszczowska of Poland finished second to take the silver with Russian Irina Kalentieva winning the bronze. Defending champion Gunn-Rita Dahle of Norway was among the medal hopefuls who abandoned the six-lap race, held on a demanding and technical 4.5km circuit and in searing temperatures.
Spitz, who won bronze at Athens in 2004, set a blistering pace on the first lap to begin building a lead on the field which slowly grew to over a minute.
On the final lap the 36-year-old from southern Germany overcame some late difficulties on the treacherous downhill sections on the final lap to finish in a winning time of 1hr 45min 11sec.
A delirious Spitz, who stopped before the finish, got off her bike and carried it over the line in triumph, admitted she endured a nervous last 15 minutes of the race.
"It was a really nervous last lap because there's always the fear that you crash or suffer a puncture or another mechanical problem," said Spitz. "I just had to keep my composure and keep going."
Wloszczowska finished second at 41secs with Kalentieva overcoming Canada's Catharine Pendrel during the sixth and final lap to claim bronze at 1:17 off the pace.
In the early stages Spitz was joined by a handful of favourites, including Spaniard Margarita Fullana, as they raced into the lead. But the German would not relent during a fast first two laps.
During the third lap Fullana joined Canada's Marie-Helene Premont in abandoning as the heat and pace took their toll. At the halfway stage Spitz had forced the gap on Wloszczowska to 52sec, with a handful of riders battling to close the gap on the start of the fourth lap.
Spitz's pace continued to do the damage, and 4.5km further on her Polish chaser was just over a minute adrift. The battle for bronze, however, was well and truly on.
Pendrel was 1:40 down on Spitz at the end of lap four, but not far behind her was Russian ace Kalentieva, Chinese pair Ren Chengyuan and Lui Ying and Switzerland's Petra Henzl.
Just behind Henzl at the end of lap four, Aleksandra Dawidowicz provided spectators with a glimpse of the dangers lurking on the course, flying over her handlebars on the steep section leading to the finish line.
Swiss racer Nathalie Schneitter said later a fall on her head on the first lap had left her seeing stars for the remainder.
"As the race went on I was getting better and better, but after I landed on my head on the first lap I was seeing stars," said Schneitter, who ended up in 15th place. "It was a very technical course and the heat made it even more difficult."
Lap five saw Kalentieva and Pendrel's tussle for the bronze intensify, the Canadian - who won her first World Cup race earlier this season - starting the penultimate lap with a two-seconds lead on the experienced Russian.
Kalentieva overcame her Canadian rival late in the race, to beat Pendrel to the finish line - and the bronze medal - by nine seconds.
|1 Sabine Spitz (Germany)||1:45:11|
|2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland)||0:00:41|
|3 Irina Kalentyeva (Russia)||0:01:17|
|4 Catharine Pendrel (Canada)||0:01:26|
|5 Chengyuan Ren (China)||0:02:29|
|6 Petra Henzi (Switzerland)||0:03:30|
|7 Mary Mcconneloug (United States)||0:05:23|
|8 Georgia Gould (United States)||0:05:40|
|9 Rosara Joseph (New Zealand)||0:05:56|
|10 Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland)||0:06:10|
For complete results with photos, visit Cyclingnews.com.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008