In dominating performances, Frenchman Julien Absalon earned his second consecutive men's Gold medal at the Beijing Olympics last week while German rider Sabine Spitz fulfilled what she called a lifetime goal of reaching Gold in the women's race.
Absalon was a sure favorite but the men's race wasn't without surprises. Most notable was Absalon's compatriot Jean-Christophe Peraud, who stormed to a silver medal, a minute after Absalon celebrated his win. The Swiss duo of Christoph Sauser and Nino Schurter delivered an exciting battle for bronze, with Schurter edging out Sauser by a few seconds.
The Laoshan mountain bike course was criticized after the test event last year for being too easy, but the riders should have been careful what they asked for, as the re-designed track was far harder than anyone had anticipated.
"It's the most complicated, difficult technical race. There were lots of stones and no time to rest," Absalon said after the race. Pernaud agreed that it was one of the hardest courses he'd ever ridden. "After I finished, I was so tired that I had to take a rest, because I couldn't feel my legs anymore," he said.
Absalon was impervious to the numerous steep and rocky descents which spelled the end of many of the favorite's' races. Even Switzerland's Christoph Sauser, the reigning world champion, had to concede the race to his 22-year-old team-mate Nino Schurter, who took the bronze. Absalon says that Schurter will be the rider to beat in London in four years' time.
Spitz dominates her way to gold
Sabine Spitz of Germany fulfilled her dream of an Olympic gold medal by dominating the field early on. Silver went to Polish rider Maja Wloszczowska and Irina Kalentyeva (Russia) scored the bronze medal. The best Chinese rider was Chengyuan Ren in fifth place. She was 2'29 back.
The race in the unforgiving Beijing heat on a very technical course saw some of the pre-race favorites drop out early. Margarita Fullana (Spain), Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) and Marie-Helene Premont (Canada) all were not able to finish the race.
Spitz had a good start and was at the front together with Fullana and Wloszczowska. Only a half lap (of six) into the race Spitz put in a very strong move. She completed the first lap 4.3-kilometre lap in 16'51, 21 seconds faster than her closest competitors.
From there Spitz kept pulling away until she held a commanding lead of around 50 seconds until the end, giving her an extremely gratifying win. "I felt pure joy that I had finally achieved this goal after so many years of hard work. Winning the gold medal at the Olympics is the crowning glory of a career."
"Almost from the beginning I was able to be at the front and set the speed of the race. This meant that I was able to set my own rhythm, and ride my own race."