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28th Olympic Games - JO
Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004
August 28: Women's Mountain Bike, 5 laps/31.1 km
Dahle dominates the dirt in Athens
Premont confirms, Spitz snatches bronze
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
It seemed inevitable today that the woman who has dominated mountain biking for the last few years should take the gold medal in Women's Mountain Bike in Athens and indeed, it was. Thirty-one year Norwegian mountain biking powerhouse Gunn-Rita Dahle clearly showed once again that she is head and shoulders above the rest of the world by dominating at the 28th Olympic Games in Greece. With her #1 number plate demonstrating her supremacy, Dahle took the fourth gold medal for Norway so far at this Olympics.
Dahle has won 10 out of 11 World Cups in the last two seasons, and might have won the race today by three minutes or more, but the extreme heat and mechanical problems with a slipping rear derailleur that caused her to dismount numerous time during the course of the almost two hour race slowed her somewhat. A delighted Dahle explained post-race that "It's really unbelievable to win here today. I've never said to myself 'I am the best mountain biker in the world'. But now, after my Olympic victory today, I can say, 'I am the best mountain biker in the world'."
The in-form Norwegian crushed the competition in a race of attrition in the hot, dry and dusty conditions, saying that "It was a very difficult race today for me. With one lap to go when I saw the climb, I asked myself, 'how will I get up there?' I managed it, but my legs were hurting a lot!"
Dahle overcame mechanical difficulties today from a crash halfway through the race which bent her rear derailleur. "After my crash, I couldn't use the smallest gear anymore and for a second, I panicked, and then I just kept going."
Twenty-six year old Canadian Marie-Helene Premont took a well deserved silver, just 59" behind Dahle. The Quebecois, who was fourth in the World Cup last season and won the Canadian championships last month in Mte. Sainte Anne, had a tenacious breakthrough performance today in Greece to confirm her talent. Premont was the only today rider to stay within striking range of Dahle all day.
"I was full of confidence today", explained Premont. "I knew that I was in very good form coming into the race and my legs were feeling good. I had no stress before and during the race. For me, the race wasn't so hard today and that was something that gave me more confidence for a positive result."
In a repeat of their battle in last year's World Championship, German Sabine Spitz had a strong finish to take the bronze medal, 2'29" behind Dahle and just ahead of experienced veteran Alison Sydor (Canada), who showed once again she is still a world class rider in her late thirties was 4th at 2'56", but Sydor had only been passed by Spitz in the closing stages of the race.
"The weather was tough today; it was very hot and this was a problem for me," said Spitz. "But I'm very happy that I won my first Olympic medal. I didn't get one in Sydney, but now that I've done it, I'm really satisfied."
Defending double Olympic champion Paola Pezzo ended today on a disappointing note, abandoning after 1.5 laps with serious back pain that has plagued her all season.
"I felt that I had done a good job preparing for the race today but during my comeback this year, I have had some physical problems," Pezzo told Cyclingnews from Athens. "I felt good the last few days but this morning, I was feeling some back pain. So when I went hard, I just didn't have it."
After her comeback this year after three seasons away from the dirt, Pezzo said "It was hard to prepare for the Olympics this year after three years off the bike, and the appendicitis attack I had in April didn't help. I didn't think I could have won the gold, because Dahle is really strong, but it was realistic to think I could get bronze. But I want to finish the season well with the World Championships in Les Gets."
As well as Pezzo, the other two medallists from Sydney four years, Barbara Blatter (Switzerland) and Marga Fullana (Spain) abandoned today in Athens.
How it unfolded
On the blazing hot, bone dry and dusty slopes of Mt. Parnitha, just north of Athens amidst a scrubby pine forest that had recently burned up part of the course, 34 women took the start at 11am local time for one start loop and 5 laps for a total of 31.3km. Local volunteers seemed to outnumber the spectators at the sparsely attended mountain bike venue. After the hectic initial start loop, audacious Canadian Alison Sydor attacked on the first climb and was followed by her teammate Premont Marie-Helene Premont. Dahle moved to the front right away in pursuit and soon this lead trio had ridden away from the rest of the riders.
After 9km, Pezzo abandoned with back problems, explaining to her fans after the race that "I have to apologize to my fans who came to support me today. I'm sorry that I didn't have it today and can only hope to do better the next time. Barbara Blatter (Switzerland) also called it a day at about the same point.
At the end of Lap 1, Dahle was just over a minute ahead of Premont, with Sydor, Spitz and Wloszczowska chasing hard behind. After two laps, the status quo was the same, excepting the strong move by by Jimena Florit (Argentina) to move up to fifth.
After three laps, Dahle was still in command of affairs as the hot noonday sun began to bake the women mountain bikers as they traversed the dusty trails of Mt. Parnitha. The Norwegian was 1'20" ahead of the Canadian, with Sydor just holding off the hard charging German who was making her move on the veteran from B.C. Van Rooy-Vink was closing on the Polish rider, while Dahle also crashed hard and bent her rear derailleur, making it impossible to get into the granny gear for the short, steep climbs.
On the penultimate tour of the unforgiving Mt. Parnitha course, Dahle was still out front, while Premont had closed to one minute. Spitz had passed Sydor to move into the bronze medal slot, while the Dutch rider Van Rooy-Vink had passed Wloszczowska and solidified her position in 5th. Florit had faded to 7th but then had a flat that dropped her back to 20th and put her out of contention as Kraft, Leboucher, McConeloug and most of the rest of the riders passed her.
As the final lap started, Dahle was finally slowing down from the hot, hard conditions and was leading the tenacious Premont by just one minute. Spitz powered through at 1'54" in the bronze medal position, with Sydor chasing hard at 2'10". At 4'02 came Dutch rider Van Rooy-Vink in 5th, just ahead of Polish rider Maja Wloszczowska at 4'13" with Yvonne Kraft (Germany), Laurent Leboucher (France) and Mary Mcconeloug (USA) all chasing hard.
Dahle took the golden honours 59" ahead of Premont, with Spitz taking the bronze just ahead of Sydor, who faded in the terrific heat today. A rider who started slow and finished strongly today was experienced Dutch rider Elspeth van Rooy-Vink, who took in 5th, 4'50" behind Dahle. The top ten was rounded out just ahead of Polish rider Maja Wloszczowska at 5'17", with Yvonne Kraft (Germany) in 7th at 8'27", former world champion Laurence Leboucher (France) 8th and Mary McConneloug (USA) in 9th, with young Australian Lisa Mathison in 10th.
Images by www.epicimages.us
Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com
1 Gunn-Rita Dahle (Norway) 1.56.51 2 Marie-Helene Premont (Canada) 0.59 3 Sabine Spitz (Germany) 2.30 4 Alison Sydor (Canada) 2.56 5 Elsbeth Van Rooy-Vink (Netherlands) 4.50 6 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) 5.17 7 Ivonne Kraft (Germany) 8.27 8 Laurence Leboucher (France) 8.43 9 Mary Mcconneloug (USA) 9.21 10 Lisa Mathison (Australia) 10.10 11 Anna Szafraniec (Poland) 10.53 12 Jimena Florit (Argentina) 11.51 13 Irina Kalentieva (Russia) 12.06 14 Barbel Jungmeier (Austria) 12.31 15 Kiara Bisaro (Canada) 12.59 16 Robyn Wong (New Zealand) 14.08 17 Yanping Ma (China) 16.27 18 Jaqueline Mourao (Brazil) 17.01 19 Katrin Leumann (Switzerland) 19.16 20 Maria Ostergren (Sweden) 19.25 1 lap behind 21 Jenny Mccauley (Ireland) 22 Yukari Nakagome (Japan) 23 Karen Matamoros (Costa Rica) 2 laps behind 24 Elina Sofocleous (Cyprus) DNF Marga Fullana (Spain) DNF Magdalena Sadlecka (Poland) DNF Barbara Blatter (Switzerland) DNF Mette Andersen (Denmark) DNF Paola Pezzo (Italy) DNF Janka Stevkova (Slovakia)