Posted by Editoress on 08/27/04
Gunn-Rita Dahle came into the women's Olympic mountain bike race as the favourite and did not disappoint, although a damaged rear derailleur did give her some anxious moments. Canadian riders fared well, with Marie-Helene Premont taking silver, and Alison Sydor finishing fourth, after spending much of the race in the bronze medal spot before succumbing to the heat and being overtaken by Sabine Spitz in the fourth lap. Canada's third rider, Kiara Bisaro, finished 15th.
The heat was the biggest factor in the race, as it soared past 35C before the start of the race, and was closer to 38 on the climbs. Barbara Blatter (Switzerland), a silver medalist four years ago, dropped out on the second lap due to the heat, according to her trainer. Sydor cramped up with the heat, commenting afterwards "By the second lap I was feeling the effects of the heat. For me it was the biggest challenge, which I knew it would be."
Sydor and Premont took the lead through the start loop with Dahle in third. As the riders began the first lap, Dahle moved into the lead, a lead that she would never relinquish. Up the first climb Premont was within sight of the Norwegian, with Sydor just 10 seconds behind. Behind them a gap was already opening up to the next group containing Maja Wloszczowska (Poland), Jimena Florit (Argentina), Blatter and Spitz. Paola Pezzo, the defending two time champion, dropped out on the second lap, telling Italian television that it was an ongoing back problem which was giving her grief.
"My race plan was to ride my own race, avoid falling and not dehydrate. So I decided not to stay with her (Dahle), otherwise I could crash, and possibly not finish." explained Premont.
Dahle's lead was 40 seconds by the middle of the second lap, with Sydor another minute back, and Spitz steadily moving up to 30 seconds behind Sydor. By the end of the lap the gap was over a minute, but Sydor and Spitz were maintaining their respective gaps to each other.
It was on the next lap that things begin to get interesting. Dahle smacked her rear derailleur on a rock, and it was not shifting properly, jamming and jumping off cogs. Sydor was fading, with world champion Spitz only 20 seconds back. By the end of the lap Premont was less than a minute behind Dahle, who had to stop more than once to unjam her chain.
On the next lap Spitz caught Sydor. "At the beginning there was a gap with Gunn-Rita, Marie-Helene and Alison, but I just decided to go at my own speed and stay comfortable so I could increase at the end. In the fourth lap, when I saw Alison, I could see that she was spinning not that easy, so I saw it was my chance to catch her. I just kept my speed and at the second feed I caught up." Spitz would gradually pull away from Sydor to take the final medal spot.
On winning the Olympic gold: "It is an incredible day for me. Even though I have been winning a lot this year, this is still an incredible moment. For now I just want to enjoy the medal with my husband and with mountain bike enthusiasts in the whole world. This moment has been a dream in the back of my head over the last years and months. For a long time I have been thinking about it, but it is a moment I will keep for the rest of my life. I wish I could describe it to you, but I cannot."
On the mechanical problems she suffered: "It is part of mountain biking; anything can happen. My derailleur was jumping after I hit a rock, so it didn't work as well in the last two laps. But as long as I stayed in front of Marie-Helene it was okay."
On how she slept the night before: "Like always before a big important race I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking it must by 8 (am) and it is only 2:30! Then I am lying there looking at my watch every 15 minutes. This is pretty normal - if I am not nervous and excited, then it will not be a good race."
On what it feels like to win a medal: ""I've been asked already a number of times to describe the feeling, but I can't express what this means, there are no words to describe it. I just wanted to do my best, and have the feeling after the race that I had done my best. The medal is a bonus."
Did she know she was catching up time on Dahle in the last two laps: "I had splits everywhere, so I knew the gap was getting shorter. I gave everything on the last climb, but by the descent I knew that I could not catch her. I knew before the race that Gunn-Rita was the one to watch. I'm am happy for her to win. At the Worlds last year I was sad for her (Dahle double flatted in the first lap)."
On being on the same team with Alison Sydor: "We have a good relationship, Alison has a lot of experience. I look to her as a mother (Editor's Note: we think she meant mentor!). Now she is my team mate."
Marie-Helene also said that 150 people crowded into her parents house in Chateau Richer to watch the race (at 4:00 am) on two big screen TV's.
On her race: "Considering the course, I knew it was important to get a good start. I was happy with my start, with keeping out of trouble. Everyone is on top of their game here, so if I could go, then I should go. I was also conscious of the heat, and not overextending myself; it is not one of my strengths. On the third lap I started to have a problem with the heat, and had to go to smaller gears."
On the race strategy: "Everyone was riding their own race here. It wasn't an advantage to be with others on this course, which is a physically hard course with nowhere to rest."
On her fourth place: "I think I had better preparation than Sydney or Atlanta, I was in physically good conditions. The weather in the last week of training (in France) was not the best for here; it was cold, but there is nothing you can do about that; it had been hot before. I think fourth (just out of the medals) is about the worst spot to finish. But we should still be happy - two riders in the top four and there is no other country that can say that."
On her result: "I must say that it has been difficult times for me at the previous Olympics. I have looked on at the others (winning medals), and I thought 'next time I want to be there with a medal around my neck'. Now it is a reality. It gave me goose bumps being there on the podium."
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