HADLEIGH FARM, United Kingdom (VN) — France’s Julie Bresset stormed to victory in the women’s mountain bike cross-country race to claim her maiden Olympic title on Saturday.
Germany’s Sabine Spitz took the silver with Georgia Gould of the United States winning the bronze.
Bresset was among an early group of pacesetters on the Hadleigh Farm course and their pace steadily thinned out the field over the first two of the race’s six laps, run on a grueling, technically challenging 4.7km loop.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Bresset. “The circuit was quite difficult. I loved being on the circuit. I used technique and decided to go ahead quite soon. I was a bit scared to be right at the front, but actually, being right at the front, I wasn’t tired and I felt good.”
By the end of the third lap the 23-year-old Frenchwoman — her left arm and knee covered in bandages following a spill in training this week — had opened up a slight lead on Spitz, Gould and the rest.
And a lap further on she had increased her advantage to 33 seconds after Spitz took a digger in a rock garden, taking Gould off the bike, too.
“In the fourth lap, when I went over the handlebar, I hurt my knee a bit. That broke my rhythm for a short time,” Spitz said. “Thank God nothing was wrong with the bike, so I could keep on going. Georgia passed me on that lap, but I could stay on her tail until I could recover my rhythm, that was a good thing.
“In the last lap, I gave everything I could. It has to be that way, because if you do not do that, then you’re in the wrong place.”
Only a similar mishap on one of the several technical sections on the course could threaten Bresset’s charge towards the gold medal. But she avoided the potential dangers in the Rock Garden, Dean’s Drop, Snake Hill and the Rabbit Hole to leave her rivals playing a desperate game of catch-up.
Bresset went on to finish the race in just under 90 minutes. Spitz crossed 1 minute and 1 second behind with Gould finishing several seconds later.
“I’m very happy. It’s amazing to win today,” said Bresset. “I hoped to win a medal and a gold medal is unbelievable. I started well, I took the front of the race and I managed it well. When I had a gap I told myself: ‘Now, I should go.’ I led until the finish and I’m very content.
“I dedicate this win to my family, my parents who were here in the tribune. A big kiss to all the people who followed me, to the French team, who supported me for the all season.”
The 23-year-old Bresset thus became the youngest woman to medal in Olympic mountain biking, while 40-year-old Spitz is the oldest to win a cycling medal since Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli took bronze at age 41 in the individual time trial during the 2000 Sydney Games.
Gould, meanwhile, is the first American woman to medal in mountain biking since Susan DeMattei took bronze in the inaugural women’s event at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
“At the beginning I was kind of in the back,” said Gould. “It took me a while to get up to the front and I had a really bad start, and then I finally caught up to that lead group. I was lucky that they were playing cat and mouse a little bit because it took me a while to move up.”
When Spitz came off her bike in one of the rocky sections, Gould said, “I had to get off my bike and that was what allowed Julie to get that initial gap. Then we were back and forth a little bit, me and Sabine. She was a little bit stronger there in the end.”
Spitz, who took gold in Beijing and bronze in Athens, is also the first rider to win gold, silver and bronze medals in Olympic mountain biking.
“Now I have the complete collection,” said Spitz. “After bronze in Athens, gold in Beijing, I’ve got silver, so I am very satisfied. I always had a medal on my mind.”
Editor’s note: Stay tuned for more from the 2012 London Olympics.