- Drug testing
Powerful Pezzo gets two from two
By Jeff Jones, online editor
Italy's glamour girl of the mountain bike scene, Paola Pezzo, successfully defended her Olympic title that she won in Atlanta in 1996 at Fairfield City Farm, Sydney today. On a warm, dry spring afternoon, Pezzo was simply too powerful for the likes of Swiss World Cup winner, Barbara Blatter and Spanish World Champion, Margarita Fullana, who took silver and bronze respectively.
The early pace was set by Barb Blatter, who quickly opened up a 15-20 second gap on Marga Fullana, with Paola Pezzo in third spot. Chasing strongly were Alison's Dunlap (USA) and Sydor (Can), with Russian Alla Epifanova not far behind. Local favourite, Mary Grigson (Aus) was riding solidly as well in 7th spot, but had already lost over a minute on the first lap.
Fullana and Blatter stayed in the lead, but Fullana took over in the third of five laps as Blatter started to tire in the heat. Paola Pezzo was struggling, but riding hard back in third, while Russian Epifanova moved into fourth.
Fullana was looking smooth, but was losing vital seconds on a few of the climbs when she dismounted and ran up. This allowed Pezzo to close the gap, as the Italian passed Blatter on lap 4 to bridge to the Spaniard. Once she caught Fullana in the Cauldron, Pezzo hung on her wheel and tried to pass (on the outside) on a left hander near the end of the lap. This almost proved disastrous for both riders, as Fullana was forced into a ditch and fell into Pezzo. Both fell off, but the Spaniard came off worse as she partially slid down the embankment.
This 10-12 second advantage was all Pezzo needed to power away on the last lap. Her face was a picture of determination as she rode up the climbs, mouth barely open while the others started to fade. Pezzo crossed the line and kissed the earth in appreciation. For the remainder of the lap, second and third placed Fullana and Blatter stuck together, before the Swiss took the lead on the downhill run into the finish and won by 8 seconds. Epifanova finished 4th, Sydor 5th and Grigson moved up to 6th ahead of Dunlap.
The controversial Italian won her second consecutive Olympic gold medal, beating the 2000 World Cup winner and 2000 World Champion in the process. Bronze medallist in the World Championships this year, Paola Pezzo prepared for the Olympics in her own way, building a course similar to the Olympic course around her home town in Italy and not competing at all after the World's in June. The top three were certainly clearly stronger than the rest of the high quality field, and the men's race tomorrow looks set to be a thriller.
The large crowd were greatly appreciative of the race and the weather, which once again was perfect for the occasion.