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29th Olympic Games - JO

Beijing, China, August 9-23, 2008

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Event 37 - August 22: Women's Cross Country MTB, 25.8km

Spitz dominates her way to gold

By Rob Jones in Beijing

Sabine Spitz of Germany crosses the line in first
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

Sabine Spitz of Germany fulfilled her dream of an Olympic gold medal by dominating the field early on. Silver went to Polish rider Maja Wloszczowska and Irina Kalentyeva (Russia) scored the bronze medal. The best Chinese rider was Chengyuan Ren in fifth place. She was 2'29 back.

The race in the unforgiving Beijing heat on a very technical course saw some of the pre-race favourites drop out early. Margarita Fullana (Spain), Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) and Marie-Helene Premont (Canada) all were not able to finish the race.

Spitz had a good start and was at the front together with Fullana and Wloszczowska. Only a half lap (of six) into the race Spitz put in a very strong move. She completed the first lap 4.3-kilometre lap in 16'51, 21 seconds faster than her closest competitors.

From there Spitz kept pulling away until she held a commanding lead of around 50 seconds until the end, giving her an extremely gratifying win. "I felt pure joy that I had finally achieved this goal after so many years of hard work. Winning the gold medal at the Olympics is the crowning glory of a career."

"Almost from the beginning I was able to be at the front and set the speed of the race. This meant that I was able to set my own rhythm, and ride my own race."

Wloszczowska saw her silver as vindication for a few seasons of struggling. "This year and the last one were not what I expcted or planned for, after medals in 2004 and 2005. Last year I had many crashes, because I think I wanted too much to be at the front all the time. This year was also a problem for me, because I made mistakes and overtrained. But always the focus was Beijing, and I did all I could to get my best form for here."

How it unfolded

Georgia Gould (USA)
Photo ©: Casey Gibson
(Click for larger image)

The weather was possibly the best seen thus far in Beijing for the Games, with blue skies, a slight breeze and temperatures in the low 30s (Celcius). The ground was almost completely dried out from the soaking two days earlier, leaving a hard and fast track. The women did six laps on the 4.5 kilometre course.

Georgia Gould (USA) and Eva Lechner (Italy) took the early lead as the field of 30 riders hit the first climb, with favourites Marie-Helene Premont (Canada), Spitz, world champion Marga Fullana (Spain) and Irina Kalentieva (Russia) all in the top ten. The Chinese duo of Ren Chengyuan and Liu Ying were both caught up in a crash towards the back of the field at the start, but started to make their way up to the front steadily, with Liu sporting a bloody knee.

Premont and Fullana had moved to the front halfway through the first lap, but Spitz was already surging, passing them both and moving into the lead by the end of the lap with a 21 second gap over a group containing Premont, Fullana, Kalentieva and Maja Wloszczowska (Poland). Catharine Pendrel (Canada), the winner of the last World Cup before the Games, was also moving to the front, just eight seconds down on the chase group. Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesjaa (Norway), the defending champion, was struggling back in midfield, and would drop out on lap four.

So far, it could have been almost any World Cup, with a lone leader chased by the rest of the serious contenders. However, the race dynamic changed drastically when Premont dropped out on lap two and Fullana a lap later.

Marie-Helene Premont (Canada)
Photo ©: Casey Gibson
(Click for larger image)

"I was feeling very good on the first lap; my legs felt good, I felt perfect," Premont explained later. "On the second lap I had to stop because of riders in front of me on the steep downhill, and walk it. When I got back on my bike, my pulse was very high and I could not breathe properly, even after I stopped. It is only the second time I have ever quit a race, but this was my health, I couldn't do anything else."

Fullana said her problem stemmed from the previous night, "I didn't feel very well, I had a bit of a stomach problem, and so I was not having my best day. It was not the heat, it was not the weather, I was just having a bad day, so I decided to quit after the second lap."

Spitz continued to power away from her rivals at the front, with Wloszczowska moving into second and Pendrel joining her, with Kalentieva and Liu just behind. But the gap was already approaching a minute, so it was fast becoming a race for the remaining medal spots.

Canada's Catharine Pendrel
Photo ©: Casey Gibson
(Click for larger image)

By lap three Wloszczowska had pulled away from Pendrel and Kalentieva for a solid lock on the silver medal, with the Canadian and Russian battling it out for the bronze. Pendrel was leading by a few seconds, but Kalentieva always had her in sight, and looked to be waiting for the opportune moment to pounce.

That moment didn't come until the last lap, when Pendrel fumbled a shift, allowing the 2007 world champion to get by and claim the final medal, by a slim nine second margin.

"Irina and I were together for most of the last lap. There was one little 'popper' climb before the final descent, and I made an error there. I tried to downshift to my granny [gear] on the steepest part, and had to put my foot down, and that's when she got by me. It hurts, but it was still a fantastic ride for me, and I feel that I didn't lose third, I won fourth."


For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by AFP Photo

Images by Casey Gibson/www.cbgphoto.com

Images by Rob Jones/www.canadiancyclist.com

Images by Greg Chang/Photosport International


1 Sabine Spitz (Germany)             1.45.11
2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland)            0.41
3 Irina Kalentyeva (Russia)             1.17
4 Catharine Pendrel (Canada)            1.26
5 Chengyuan Ren (China)                 2.29
6 Petra Henzi (Switzerland)             3.30
7 Mary Mcconneloug (United States)      5.23
8 Georgia Gould (United States)         5.40
9 Rosara Joseph (New Zealand)           5.56
10 Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland)       6.10
11 Elisabeth Osl (Austria)              6.28
12 Ying Liu (China)                     6.50
13 Lene Byberg (Norway)                 8.08
14 Elsbeth Van Rooy (Netherlands)       8.19
15 Nathalie Schneitter (Switzerland)    8.31
16 Eva Lechner (Italy)                 13.11
17 Laurence Leboucher (France)         15.44
18 Adelheid Morath (Germany)           17.14

One lap behind

19 Jaqueline Mourao (Brazil)                
20 Rie Katayama (Japan)                     
21 Blaza Klemencic (Slovenia)               

Two laps behind

22 Yolande Speedy (South Africa)            
23 Vera Andreeva (Russia)                   
24 Janka Stevkova (Slovakia)                
25 Francisca Campos (Chile)                 
26 Dellys Starr (Australia)                 
DNF Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway)           
DNF Margarita Fullana (Spain)               
DNF Marie-Helene Premont (Canada)           
DNF Tereza Hurikova (Czech Republic)        

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