By Luke Webber in Madrid, Spain
Just three races since returning to competition, Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjå underlined why she is still considered the best female mountain biker in the world by coming to Madrid and winning under less than perfect circumstances. The Norwegian former World Champion outsprinted Canadian Marie-Helene Premont in a near photo finish to take victory with at time of 1:48:14. Marga Fullana, racing in her home country, finished third at 1:13. Sabine Spitz and Georgia Gould rounded out the top five.
Just one year ago Dahle Flesjå was forced to stop riding after a long period of over racing and training led to a virus breaking her body down. It was only in Houffalize, Belgium, at the opening round of the cross country World Cup three weeks ago that Dahle Flesjå could return to racing at the top level. Then one week later in Offenburg, she withdrew from the race due to ill health. Nobody expected the result - least of all Dahle Flesjå herself.
Her husband and coach, Kenneth Flesjå was equally shocked, but said after his wife's win, "Here we had a diamond and you can never crack one of those. Gunn Rita was scratched and now we have polished that diamond back into shape."
Dahle Flesjå escaped with Premont, who's had a strong World Cup Season so far with a second and a third in the previous weeks. The Canadian was probably the favorite based on performances this year, but Dahle Flesjå could draw from plenty of experience and a strong motivation upon her return to the front of the peloton, and it was Dahle Flesjå who won out in an almost-sprint finish.
"During the first few laps, I was riding at my very limit, but I managed to keep my position in the leading group," said the Norwegian winner. "In the end, it came down to just Premont and me, so I told myself: Now I can win. This self-confidence combined with all of my experience and passion were the basis of my victory here in Madrid."
The World Cup takes a few weeks off for cross country riders before reconvening in Andorra for round four on May 31 - June 1. In the meantime, the opening round of the Gravity World Cup will take place May 10-11 in Maribor, Slovenia.
See Cyclingnews' full coverage of the elite women's World Cup race in Madrid.