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29th Olympic Games - JO

Beijing, China, August 9-23, 2008

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August 23: Women's cross country mountain bike race, 25.8.5km

Complete live report

Live commentary by Susan Westemeyer

10:00 CST   
Hello, and welcome back to our Olympic race coverage. Today the mountain bikers get their chance to do their thing. The women are up first -- finally, we must say, since they were supposed to ride yesterday. But the heavy rains made the track impossible. We'll see how it looks today.

10:01 CST   
Some of the favourites are in the front row, like Marie-Helene Premont (Canada, #2), Sabine Spitz (Germany, #3), Irina Kalentyeva (Russia, #5), Margarita Fullana (Spain, #6), Georgia Gould (United States of America, #7) and Ying Liu (China, #8). Number one is worn by Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway), but she is in the second start row.

10:01 CST   
The sun is shining and the ladies are underway! An immediate crash brings down two riders at the back. One of them is Rosara Joseph (New Zealand)

10:03 CST   
Eva Lechner of Italy is in the lead at the moment, followed by the Russian Irina Kalentieva.

10:05 CST   
Marie Helene Premont of Canada leads the way down a very rocky and steep descent.

10:07 CST   
The field is strung out along the course. Premont still leads, ahead of Margarita Fullana (Spain), Sabine Spitz (Germany), Catharine Pendrel (Canada) and Maja Wloszcyowska of Poland.

10:10 CST   
The women will be going six laps today. The Laoshan mountain bike course is 4.3 km long, and the number of laps to be ridden is determined only at the time of competition, depending on weather and course conditions. It features a hard-pack track with a number of small climbs through „heavy brush and woods.“ After the preview of the course last year, changes were made to the course to make it more technical, adding berms (banked curves), drops, rock and new climbs and descents.

10:11 CST   
They will go six laps at 4.3 km per lap, for a total of 25.8 km.

10:12 CST   
A group of six or so has pulled slightly away from the rest. Sabine Spitz of Germany is now in second place as they slowly make their way up a steep climb.

10:14 CST   
Fullana and Spitz have a slight lead over Premont, Wloszczowska, Kalentieva and Aleksandra Dawidowicz, also of Russia. And now we see one of the women get off her bike to walk for a short spell.

10:15 CST   
The course is an extremely tough one. The start is at 80m, the highest point, about midway through, is at 112m. The whole course is marked with yellow tape. Parts of the course are narrow enough to not even allow spectators on the side.

10:16 CST   
This is interesting -- as they come down a steep rocky and slow descent, they must immediately make a left hand turn and there is a tree trunk right in the middle of the path! Yikes!

10:17 CST    1 lap/5 laps to go
Spitz has broken out and has built up a big lead. She now comes on to the pavement and crosses over the finish line, setting off on the second lap.

10:17 CST   
Kalentieva, Fullana and the others follow 21 seconds later.

10:19 CST   
We forgot to say that Spitz came through in 16,51. She was not happy that the race was postponed for a day, but perhaps she is using that to motivate herself even more today.

10:20 CST   
Spitz can make a bit better time now that she is alone on the course. She is really whipping around those sharp corners!

10:21 CST   
Wloszczowska, Kalentieva and Fullana are still in pursuit.

10:21 CST   
It is hot and sunny today. It was 27° at the start at nine a.m.

Spitz is already ahead of the others. She is very motivated to get gold today
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

10:22 CST   
Whoops! A Japanese rider went down on a descent. A women in front of her had to get off her bike, and the Japanese rider was unable to stop in time.

10:24 CST   
Sabine Spitz, 36, Germany, already has one Olympic medal, having won bronze in Athens in 2004. This year she finished second in the World Championships in Val di Sole, Italy, and is, of course, reigning German champion. In fact, she was also German champion in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

10:25 CST    1.5laps/4.5laps to go
The situation remains the same -- Spitz ahead of the four followers. Behind them there is a lot of space.....

10:26 CST   
It looks like one of the Chinese riders has moved up into the chasing group.

10:28 CST   
Spitz turns on the speed as she goes through "pit row". Her lead after 1.5 laps is 37 seconds.

10:28 CST   
It looks like Fullana has gone down. She is standing up now, but bleeding from the elbow and talking to a helper. Most importantly, she is standing and not riding.

10:29 CST   
That is not Fullana, but Premont.

10:29 CST   
Marie Helene Premont, 30, took the silver medal in the Athens Olympics. The Canadian is not only national champion but has also won two World Cup races this year.

Premont went down on the technical course
Photo ©: Bjorn Haake
(Click for larger image)

10:30 CST   
Spitz has been underway 30 minutes now -- as they all have -- and it has been a while since the others have seen the German.

10:33 CST   
Kalentieva is now alone is second place. She was absolutely determined to get a medal here. Check out our interview with her from before the World Championships.

10:35 CST    2laps/4laps to go
Spitz hits the finish line again, with a time of 33.50. Her lead has increased, the others haven't appeared yet.

10:36 CST   
Wloszczowska came over the line 49 seconds down, followed by Pendrel, Kalentieva and Ying Liu of China at 52 seconds.

10:38 CST   
Premont has now abandoned, no surprise.

10:40 CST   
The Chines rider has now moved into second place, slightly ahead of Pendrel.

10:41 CST   
Premont abandoned in the middle of the course, and now has to walk her bike back. There's not a lot of room along the side of the course!

10:41 CST   
Ying Liu of China, 22, won the “Good Luck Beijing” race on this course last September. She finished 17th in the Worlds in Italy in June.

10:42 CST   
Spitz has just made her way down a boulder-strewn descent, only to go back up a short steep climb.

10:43 CST    2.5laps/3.5laps to go
Spitz turns on the speed again, as the Chinese rider pulls further away from the other chasers.

10:45 CST   
You can't tell the players without a scorecard -- so check out the updated start list. Just click on the link at the top of this page.

Ying Liu is chasing hard to catch Spitz and deliver the expected gold for the host nation
Photo ©: Rob Jones
(Click for larger image)

10:45 CST    2.5laps/3.5laps to go
Spitz' lead was 52 seconds at the last half lap marker.

10:47 CST   
Wloszckowska and Ying are now together, 53 seconds back.

10:47 CST   
Maja Wloszczowska of Poland is 24 years old. This is her second Olympics, though, as she finished sixth in Athens as a 20 year-old. She had a sore throat and cough the beginning of the month, so let's hope she is healthy again now. Seems to be!

10:49 CST   
One of the names we expected to hear a lot today was Gunn-Rita Dahle of Norway, but so far she is not a factor at all. The 35 year-old has been riding since 1996, and has won virtually everything there is to win. It would probably be easier to list what she has not won! Among her many honours are the gold medal from Athens, six World championships and six European championships.

10:51 CST   
Spitz once again is on the pavement and heading to the finish line. She takes a drink as she goes in at 51.15.

10:53 CST    3laps/3laps to go
Wloszczowska is now alone in second place, 52 seconds down. Kalentieva, Ying and Pendrel are over a minute behind.

10:53 CST   
Irina Kalentieva is Russian but lives in Germany. The 30 year-old was 2007 World Champion and finished third this year. She had hoped to medal in the Athens Olympics, but got sick two days before the race. She rode anyway, but was unable to bring the expected performance. That should certainly help to motivate her today!

Kalentieva is the lightest-weight rider in the MTB races, coming in at only 45 kilo, or 99 pounds.

10:55 CST   
A reader has asked where Georgia Gould of the US is. We don't know, as we really only see the leaders, but we will keep an eye out for her. Meanwhile, here is a little background on her.

Georgia Gould, 28, of the USA, first came to attention when she surprisingly won the 2006 national championships. Since then she has gone on to dominate the national scene. She finished ninth in the recent Worlds.

10:55 CST    3laps/3laps to go
Fullana is the next to abandon the race.

10:57 CST   
Gould is at least not in the top eight.

Spitz has just taken a bottle on board. It's very important to stay hydrated in this weather and when putting out this kind of effort.

10:58 CST   
Margarita Fullana of Spain had good credentials for this race. She won the Worlds title in June and went home to take her national title, too. The 35 year-old already has one Olympic medal. She won bronze in this event in Sydney, 2000. She won't win another one today, though.

10:59 CST   

Current race situation

  • Sabine Spitz (Germany)
  • Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) at 0.52
  • Irina Kalentyeva (Russia), Ying Liu (China) and Catharine Pendrel (Canada) at 1.15

11:01 CST    3.5laps/2.5laps to go
We see Lene Byberg of Norway and Elsbeth Van Rooy of the Netherlands make their way along as the ladies have been out there for an hour now.

11:02 CST    3.5laps/2.5laps to go
Spitz' lead over Wloszckowska is now 51 seconds, down one second from before.

11:03 CST   
Laurence Leboucher and Adelheid Morath are a twosome winding their way around the course. The one is French, the other German. They are both pretty far back at this point.

11:04 CST   
About 1.15 back for Ying, Kalentieva and Pendrel.

11:04 CST   
Catherine Pendrel of Canada won the World Cup race in Bromont, Canada, earlier this month. She finished just ahead of her team-mate Premont, and said she was going to Beijing „with confidence“.

11:05 CST   
Spitz is making her way through a series of switchbacks in the forest. She is no doubt thankful for the shade.

11:07 CST   
The rider with our favourite name of Yolande Speedy makes her way around, too, but is not really living up to her name.

The number 30 rider in the race is the appropriately named Yolande Speedy of South Africa. She was 41st in the Worlds. This is her first Olympics, and she is only the second South African woman to qualify for the Olympics MTB competition.

11:08 CST   
There is space here at the Laoshan Mountain Bike course for 17,000 spectators. At least the fans have a chance to watch the race, unlike the road races, where there were problems.

11:10 CST    4laps/2laps to go
Spitz hits the finish line again and starts off on her next lap. She has a time of 1.08.49 and needed some 17 minutes for the fourth lap.

11:11 CST   
Wloszczowska has lost 10 seconds. She is now 1.01 behind Spitz. Pendrel at 1.40 and Kalentieva at 1.41.

11:12 CST   
Here are Spitz' times: Lap one, 16:51, lap two 16:59, lap three 17:29. and lap four 17:35. She is averaging 17 km/hr.

11:13 CST   
Ouch ! A nasty spill for Rosara Joseph of New Zealand. Her bike caught in a gully on a descent, and she went down it the wrong way.

Rosara Joseph of New Zealand is 26, and was 30th in the Worlds. She is not only the current Oceania champion, but also a Rhodes scholar.

11:14 CST   
Ying Liu, the Chinese rider who was second for so long, has fallen out of contention now and is over three minutes down.

11:16 CST   

Current race situation

  • Sabine Spitz (Germany)
  • Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) at 1.01
  • Catharine Pendrel (Canada) at 1.40
  • Irina Kalentyeva (Russia) at 1.45
  • Chengyuan Ren (China) at 2.54
  • Ying Liu (China) at 3.03
  • Petra Henzi (Switzerland) at 3.06

11:17 CST   
We have two South Americans in the race today. Francisca Campos, 23, is Chilean national champion. She was 28th in the Worlds this year.

Jaqueline Moura of Brazil is “double trouble” -- in fact, this is her third Olympics. She rode the mountain bike race in Athens, but that wasn't enough for this 32 year-old – she also was in the cross-country ski race in the Turin Winter Olympics!

11:18 CST    4.5laps/1.5laps to go
With only one and half laps to go, Spitz has built of a lead of 1.17 minutes.

11:20 CST   
Van Rooy of the Netherlands must have gone down at some point. She has some suspicious looking smears on her jersey.

Elsbeth Van Rooy of the Netherlands, 35, is in her third Olympics. In Atlanta in 1996 she rode both the road race and the mountain bike race, and in Athens she was in the MTB race. She finished fifth in both mountain bike races.

11:21 CST   
Turns out that was actually Joseph's second crash of the day. She went down with another rider shortly after the start. The New Zealander is for someone reason wearing white instead of the traditional black.

11:22 CST   
And it also looks like Spitz' lead at the halfway mark of this lap was 58 seconds, and not 1.17. The Polish rider is still her closest chaser.

11:23 CST   
Eva Lechner of Italy swoops by. Lechner, 23, of Italy was 18th in the Worlds, and hopes to make it to the Road World Championships. All of those world championships are in her homeland this year!

11:24 CST   
Spitz carefully makes her way down one of those nasty rocky descents. She has to pay good attention. The German certainly doesn't want to crash now and throw away her almost-certain gold medal!

11:25 CST   
Pendrel and Kalentieva were nearly two minutes back at the last half lap. Looks like they will fight it out for the bronze.

11:27 CST   
1.26.26 for Spitz as she heads off for the last lap. 18 minutes to go for her gold medal!

11:28 CST    5laps/1laps to go
And Wloszczowska is now 55 seconds down.

11:31 CST    5laps/1laps to go
Pendrel and Kalentieva continue to fight it out for third place, currently at 1.50 and 1.52 respectively. Fourth is now the Chinese rider Chenyuang Ren, but she is over three minutes down.

11:32 CST   
We have a good crowd out here today watching the race -- unlike the road races!

11:32 CST   
Another bottle for Spitz who is still grinding her solo way along.

11:33 CST   
Georgia Gould is still in the race. She has just crossed the line to start on her last lap.

And Gunn-Rita Dahle has abandoned.

11:34 CST   
Pendrel still leads Kalentieva as they bounce along over the rocks. Will they stay close enough together to sprint for the bronze?

11:36 CST    5.5laps/0.5laps to go
The day's effort is showing on Spitz, which is no surprise. But she doesn't have far left to go now.

11:37 CST   
Spitz negotiates her way down one of those boulder-strewn descents, still being careful. Wloszczowska is now only 47 seconds back, but we doubt she will catch the German at this point.

11:39 CST   
Spitz doesn't take a bottle at "pit row" this time. She just wants to get to that finish line, and who can blame her?

11:40 CST   
A steep and slow ascent, followed by a zig-zag down through the forest.

11:41 CST   
Morath of Germany has her jersey wide open in the heat.

11:41 CST   
Now Spitz goes up a series of zig-zags -- and up and up and up...

11:42 CST   
No! A slight crash for Spitz. She has to put her foot down and it seems to take forever to get back into the pedals.

11:43 CST   
Her lead is big enough that she doesn't need to worry. But she has to keep that concentration up!

11:44 CST   
Spitz take the last descent.

11:45 CST    6laps/0laps to go
She is on the asphalt and grabs a German flag, which she joyously waves. A meter before the finish line she stops and gets off her bike, which she carries over the line.

11:46 CST   
Wloszczowska comes over 45 seconds later, also overjoyed. She goes right into Spitz' arms for a welcoming hug.

11:47 CST   
And third place goes to Russia! Kalentieva has managed to pull away and takes bronze ahead of Pendrel.

11:49 CST   
So Sabine Spitz is Germany's first mountain bike medal winner! Congratulations to her and to all of the women.

That was it for this first part of the day. We'll be back later with the men -- can their race possibly be as exciting?

Provisional results

1 Sabine Spitz (Germany)        1.45.11
2 Maja Wloszczowska (Poland)       0.47
3 Irina Kalentyeva (Russia)        1.17
4 Catharine Pendrel (Canada)       1.28
5 Chengyuan Ren (China)            2.29

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