Posted by Editoress on 09/12/04
Mountain Bike World Championships Les Gets, France
Gunn-Rita Dahle of Norway has become the first woman to complete the mountain bike triple - winning the Olympics, World Cup (she has mathematically sewn it up with one race remaining) and now the World title. She joins Miguel Martinez of France (who did it in 2000) in an extremely elite club of two. Poland's Maja Wloszczowska held off a late charge by Canadian Alison Sydor to take the silver medal, while Sydor preserved her incredible streak of top-5 finishes (now 14 consecutive finishes) at the Worlds with the bronze.
After a week of bright sunshine, the weather turned ugly overnight, with hours of rain turning the course into a muddy, slippery slog which forced all but Dahle to run the steepest climbs. Sydor charged into the lead at the start, but was passed by Wloszczowska and Dahle on the first climb. Wloszczowska actually took the lead towards the end of the first lap (of five), but Dahle responded instantly and took her predictable place at the front, despite having fallen ill after Athens.
"I was in bed for the first week after the Olympics, with a sore throat and on antibiotics. A couple of days ago I started to feel better, but it is still unbelievable to win again. Today was reminding me of Kaprun (Austria, where Dahle won the world title in 2002), so I put on the same type of tire. Today was a matter of getting your rhythm and being careful. I was off the bike sometimes, but I knew others would be having the same problem. I did have a little drama on the last lap because I had no brakes and the cable came off, so I was sliding everywhere. But it was a very good day for me, I felt like I was floating on the bike."
The Norwegian opened her lead on the second lap, while posting the fastest lap split of the day, and continued to gradually draw away from the field. Behind, Wloszczowska was turning in constant laps as second fastest until she faltered on the fourth lap, which allowed Sydor to catch up as they began the final lap.
"The whole fourth lap was very hard for me" admitted Wloszczowska afterwards. "I couldn't handle my bike at all, and was slipping around a lot. So I was worried when Alison caught up to me, yes, but I knew that I was stronger on the uphills so I attacked on the (first) climb on the last lap. The whole last lap my coach was shouting at me (over the radio), and so I was able to keep my place to the line."
Sydor came to the Worlds after finishing fourth at the Olympics, a spot she calls "the worst place to finish. It is difficult for everybody after the Olympics, to get motivated again so close after it. It was hard conditions, mentally and physically here. She had a problem and I was able to catch up, but on the last lap she was able to go a little harder and I couldn't stay with her. But I'm pretty happy to be back on the podium again."
Behind the front three there was an incredible comeback being staged by Olympic silver medalist Marie-Helene Premont of Canada. Premont ran into problems early on the first lap when her chain got jammed between the spokes and the rear cog. By the time she had it unstuck she was in last place.
"When my chain got stuck, like Mont Ste Anne, I had to start from last place, so it was hard to pass when it was so muddy and slippery. After that I couldn't have the second plate (middle chainring) and top two gears (at the back). But every lap I was getting positions. I had good legs and I was getting time."
Premont moved up to 21st by the end of the first lap, 14th a lap later, 8th the next lap, 6th by the start of the final lap, and then caught Irina Kalentieva (Russia) and finally defending world champion Sabine Spitz (Germany) before the finish to take fourth.
"My coach said to me that they didn't look strong. When I caught Sabine we were fighting for it, and then she went a little to hard and crashed in the rocks. So, I am happy that I did a really good race, from last to fourth."
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