Just three races since returning to competition, Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjå (Multivan Merida) underlined why she is still considered the best female mountain biker in the world by coming to Madrid and winning under less than perfect circumstances.
The Norwegian former world champion outsprinted Canadian Marie-Helene Premont (Rocky Mountain) in a photo finish to take victory with at time of 1:48:14. Marga Fullana (Massi), racing in her home country, finished third at 1:13. Sabine Spitz (Central Ghost) and Georgia Gould (Luna) rounded out the top five.
Just one year ago Dahle Flesjå was forced to stop riding after a long period of over racing and training led to a virus breaking her body down. It was only in Houffalize, Belgium, at the opening round of the cross country World Cup three weeks ago that Dahle Flesjå could return to racing at the top level. Then just a week later in Offenburg, she withdrew from the race due to ill health. Nobody expected today's result - least of all Dahle Flesjå herself.
Just last week in an exclusive interview with Cyclingnews, Dahle Flesjå outlined her plans for the year and nowhere in them figured a World Cup win.
"I could never have imagined taking this amazing victory today, it is like winning ten World Championships to me," said the happy Norwegian.
Her husband and coach, Kenneth Flesjå was equally shocked, but said after his wife's win, "Here we had a diamond and you can never crack one of those. Gunn Rita was scratched and now we have polished that diamond back into shape."
What may be most worrying for the competition however is that Dahle Flesjå is not yet in her peak form. It will be interesting to see what follows at the World Championships - surely a comeback to recapture Olympic gold could only be a dream?
How it unfolded
The starting field for the women's event was greatly depleted to just 90 competitors compared to 140 in previous races. With current leader Irina Kalentieva missing due to illness, it was up to Dahle Flesjå, Marie-Helene Premont and home favourite Marga Fullana to set the pace. At times this hard-packed circuit resembled a road race with groups forming and this is exactly how the leading pair of Dahle Flesjå and Premont made their escape from an initial group of four with six chasers.
Working together after a fatiguing Fullana dropped off the pace, back both riders looked good for the win. All bets were on Premont who finished third and second at the previous two World Cup events, but it was Dahle Flesjå who won out in an almost-sprint finish.
After the finish, Premont commented on how well both riders had worked together to hold the gap. She said, "There was nothing left" to deny Gunn Rita the win.
Fullana came in to the finish with a great reception from the home fans, perhaps only matched by the response from the Merida team, whose result made up for all their misfortunes over the previous weeks including break-ins, thefts and illness.