Julie Bresset brought France its third gold medal in four races by racing to a solo victory at the under 23 women's world championship cross country race in Champery, Switzerland. It was her second gold medal after she also raced the team relay on Wednesday.
Bresset was challenged only by runner-up Annie Last (Great Britain) while everyone else battled for third. Pauline Ferrand Prevot gave France yet another medal with her third place finish.
"After yesterday's success in the team relay, I was able to refocus and get into this race," said Bresset, who was the clear favorite going into the day. "A race is never won before it's finished. I wanted to focus totally and achieve my potential. I had good energy today and I was able to set my pace and keep doing what I wanted. What is most exciting is that now my race week is over and finally I can celebrate today."
Bresset and Last rode away from the bunch on the start lap and quickly gained a one-minute advantage. Last rode her own pace for a solid second place while Bresset was untouchable in the lead.
"I tried my hardest on the first lap to stay with Julie, but she got a bit of a gap and carried on," said Last. "I could see her in front sometimes tried to get back to her and keep the gap from getting bigger. I was knackered at the end.
"There were so many places you can make tiny mistakes and if you can make tiny mistakes, you know other people can too, so you have to keep chasing," said Last.
As the winner of the elite women's World Cup overall, the race was considered Bresset's to lose. UCI rules require her to ride her age group, U23, at the Worlds although she has been winning World Cups at the elite level all season.
Bresset knew the pressure was on her. "It was a very stressful competition," she said. "I've not been racing with the U23s this season, so it was quite tense to ride with people I don't normally race with on the course. I think it was even more stressful than many of the World Cup events."
She took nothing for granted and that paid off on the third lap.
"My gap suddenly went down because I crashed in the downhill part," said Bresset. "You have to be so focused. I had some technical problems with my gears due to my crash. I could have lost my race there. Fortunately, I was able to put everything back together and keep it going. It was nerve-wracking. I wanted to go into the final lap with at least a one-minute lead."
Last has also spent the season contesting the elite-level World Cup. "I've not done many U23 races, so it was interesting to see what it was like racing the U23s."
"You can look at lap times for the elite and U23 race and compare, but until you are in the same race, you don't know what the difference really is," said Last. "I knew Julie was going fast, but I didn't know how fast the rest of the racers were going. I knew Julie would be the one at the front and she'd be the one to beat."
Bresset, who is in her final year as a U23 racer, crossed the line in 1:32:29. Last, who has one more year in the U23 ranks to go, locked in second place at 1:30.
Bresset was mobbed at the finish line by fans waving the flags of Bretange and France. She was especially psyched to see her brother had made the trip to come watch her win, as he did in Offenburg at the World Cup a few months ago.
Last year's junior world champion Ferrand Prevot finished third at 5:47.
The tightest battle of the race was for fourth place with four women contesting: last year's bronze medallist in the junior world championship Helen Grobert (Germany), Anne Terpstra (Netherlands), Yana Belomoyna (Ukraine) and Vivienne Meyer (Switzerland).
"The whole race was so tricky. I'm happy with it it but the track was difficult and you had to concentrate," said Grobert, who crashed twice during the race. "So much could happen."
On the final lap, Grobert and Terpstra got away from Meyer and Belamoyna. The two stayed together until the top of the final climb, when Grobert got away. She knew she had to be ahead going into the final downhill in order to secure fourth at 6:53.
Terpstra finished fifth at 7:20. "I wasn't with the front group on the start loop, but by the second lap, I was with the three other girls battling for fourth. Staying as long as possible on the bike helped me move toward the front. One girl with us didn't take the drop, so I got in front of her, and then I was at the front with the German girl, but she was just too fast on the final climb."
"It was hard to stay on your bike out there."
The blistering pace set by Bresset and Last meant that many under 23 women were lapped and pulled. Of the 46 starters, only 15 completed the entire race distance.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.