This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.
Julie Bresset (France) did the double this season by pulling off a win at the elite women's cross country world championship just three weeks after winning the Olympic Games. Behind the first-year elite French woman, the race was for second, with Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) taking silver and Georgia Gould (United States) the bronze medal.
"It's very difficult to me to realize what has happened," said a happy Bresset. "The gold medal of a world champion is very amazing. Today I was very relaxed because after winning the Olympic gold medal, I was happy." She was also busy with a mix of celebrating, obligatory media duties and official invitations.
"I did not prepare for this race," she said, although she was obviously still sporting her excellent Olympic form. "Preparing for the Olympic Games was important and that race helped my confidence."
Bresset went to the front early in the race. Initially, she pulled along Sabine Spitz (Germany), Eva Lechner (Italy) and Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway). The four quickly gapped the other top contenders. By the end of lap one of the six laps that followed the start loop, Katerina Nash (Czech Republic) led the chasers at 40 seconds after Bresset's group.
2011 world champion Catharine Pendrel was missing from the leaders and was spotted in 15th place on the second climb of the first lap.
"I led out the start for a little while and I thought 'This is unusual, did I go too hard?'" said Pendrel, noting her recent slower starts. "I eased off a bit and suddenly 20 girls went by me. I was feeling good and started making up spots. It was hard to keep that pace going - I made some good efforts."
Bresset was the one setting the tempo - she looked smooth and comfortable as she flew past. Lechner disappeared from the lead group after she crashed hard on the rock drop on the second lap. The accident cost her many places.
At first it was a little like the Olympic Games with three women at the front. But instead of Bresset, Spitz and Gould, it was Dahle-Flesjaa filling in for Gould.
However, Spitz was the next to face some bad luck. She crashed on the first descent of lap three and lost several places after addressing the related carnage.
"On the downhill from the very top of the course, I went over a root, and it was a bit wet and slippery," said Spitz. "My rear wheel shifted a bit to the side and Gunn-Rita was too close on my back wheel, so she crashed into the back wheel, and my rim broke.
"I had to run nearly halfway down the downhill. I had to carry my bike because with the broken rim, it wasn't possible to push it. After I changed my rear wheel, it was tough to get back my rhythm. The chase group arrived when I was in the tech zone and after my wheel change, I got back into the race around ninth or 10th."
Meanwhile, Gould was moving up. She first joined Nash, then passed her to take over as top chaser. With Lechner and Spitz both bumped backward in the rankings by their crashes, Gould found herself suddenly alone in third place. It was going to be a long three more laps for her.
For the second half of the race, Gould chased Dahle Flesjaa, who chased Bresset. Behind them, a small pack of riders had formed, all of whom were hungry for a bronze medal. While Bresset and Dahle Flesjaa seemed out of reach, Gould was at times within sight.
The chasers initially included marathon world champion Esther Süss (Switzerland), Irina Kalentieva (Russian Federation), Pendrel, Nash, Adelheid Morath (Germany), Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland) and Blaza Klemencic (Slovenia). Both Spitz and Lechner showed their tenacity after their crashes and climbed back up the rankings to join the chasers.
"Georgia stayed in sight for a long time, and I thought maybe that getting up to bronze was possible," said Pendrel. "I had some good strengths, but I couldn't use them because I got caught behind people. I kept getting caught behind one girl on the same descent and probably lost 20 seconds over the course of the race cumulatively. It's hard to stay on the pace when you're forced to sit in. That's something I'll have to figure out."
With about one lap to go, Bresset led Dahle Flesjaa by 1:26 and Gould by 2:56. Süss, Kalentieva, Spitz and Lechner chased in close proximity toward each other.
Bresset, a first-year elite rider, would cross the line to win the title. Last year, she was the U23 world champion. Dahle Flesja rode solidly into second place while Gould took third after a nervous crash on the final descent let her chasers get even closer.
"I crashed on the last rock drop during the last lap the last time," said Gould. "I don't know I guess I was just nervous. I went over the bars and my bike landed on top of me. Luckily I was able to get back up quickly and on my bike again."
Also racing alone for most of the day, Dahle Flesjaa said, "I tried to focus on my own race and make as few mistakes as possible while keeping my speed up. I'd focus on each 10m at a time. I think I did pretty well ending up in second. The race kind of settled after the first lap and then I had to push yourself to the limit and stay out of trouble. I had a steady race." It made up for her disappointing Olympic result a few weeks ago.
Perhaps shaken by their earlier misfortunes, both Spitz and Lechner crashed again on the final lap.
Lechner said, "After my first crash, I was back in 20th position, but felt good and moved up into fifth position. But I was so over the limit, that I crashed again on the last lap. It was a different place than the first crash. I have a little bit of pain and I'm heading to go get it checked out."
That helped Süss race to fourth place and Kalentieva to fifth. Spitz ended up sixth.
Tereza Hurikova (Czech Republic) won the sprint for seventh place against a surging Lea Davison (United States), who moved up throughout the race.
Technical sections made the difference
In the women's race, it was clearly a day where the technical sections made a difference in the race as many of the top riders crashed there. Not Bresset, though, who was having a good day.
"Today I won my race in the technical section," she said. "When Sabine made a mistake in the technical section on the first lap, that's when I took over the lead. Later, I got 10 seconds in the technical section and led from then on."
Silver medallist Dahle Flesjaa said she felt comfortable on the technical sections, too. "I think those conditions with slippery roots going the wrong direction were similar to the forest I have at home where I normally ride off road. I was thinking in training the last few weeks that this is just like home. It was a little more slippery, but it worked out fine.
"Winning the silver today is a big thing for me. It's a turn around from a big disappointment in the Olympics. On top of that, things were not going the right way in the lead-up to Worlds. I was sick and missed the last two weekends of racing. We share everything in my family, so we all got sick. It's been two tough weeks. Training and recovery and resting as much as possible worked out great, but if someone had asked me last Saturday would I be able to fight for a medal, I would have said definitely not."
Gould was also pleased with her bronze which comes three weeks after winning the Olympic bronze. "Right now women's racing internationally is so competitive," said Gould. "Obviously you want to win the race, but there are so many tough women. I was just kind of riding my own race. I'm sure it was boring to watch. For me, all I could do was ride as fast as I could. If they caught me, then I'd deal with that then."
Davison exceeded her previous best Worlds finish by getting eighth. Last year, she was 10th in Champery. "I just kept moving up the entire race. I would lose a little bit on that technical descent every lap, but I was climbing well," she said. "I had some good luck on the last descent. There was kind of a pile-up at the bottom and I just squeaked by and passed some more girls on the last climb."
Georgia Gould's bronze medal marked the fourth time in three years that American women have claimed that medal. Willow Koerber won bronze in 2009 and 2010, prior to having a baby and retiring.