Sweden's Alexandra Engen rode to a gold medal at the Under 23 cross country race at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on Thursday. Great Britain's Annie Last and Poland's Paula Gorycka finished second and third.
From the gun, Last blasted into the race lead which she held for 3.5 laps of the 4.5-lap race. The young Brit rode smoothly and steadily although she faded slightly toward the end of the race. Engen proved stronger and assumed the lead as the pair crossed through the finish area with one lap remaining.
"I think you can read in my smile how happy I am," said a beaming Engen after her victory. "It's fabulous to finally get the jersey, and it's my last chance in Under 23. I'm happy I could have a good season that ended in winning the Worlds. I won the silver medal last year, and I said I wanted to improve so I had to win."
Another battled ensued for third place. Paula Gorycka (Poland) moved up from fourth to third on the final lap when she passed Tanja Zakelj (Slovenia), who ended up fourth. Canada's Emily Batty was fifth.
Last, Zakelj, Engen, Gorycka were among the top starters, but none of them was fastest. Instead, like in the junior women's race a day prior, it was a Swiss rider, Vivienne Meyer, who led the field with a blazing first lap. Meyer would slowly fade rearward as the race progressed and eventually finished 19th.
Last, a second-year under 23 racer who finished fifth at last year's Worlds, assumed the lead during the first full lap.
"My plan was to ride my own race, given the course and the heat," said Last, who said she was "very pleased" with her silver medal. "After the start loop, I came out in the lead. I didn't think about it and just kept on riding. From then on, I just kept my own race."
Last described the course as "not as technical as Champery and fun to ride", and until the end of the race, she floated smoothly through the rougher bits. "With about two laps to go, it started to get a bit hot, and I started to go a bit slower," she said. "The course took its toll." The constantly up and down course gave racers little time to recover.
Engen took a more conservative approach to the start of the race. "I knew that it was hot and when you come from a snowy place like Sweden, you're not so good at going in the heat. I knew I could do two laps really, really hard in these conditions. I had a clear plan before I started - one with a focused start, but not a slow start."
Zakelj spent most of the race in third place, between one and a half and two and a half minutes down on the leaders. She rode alone, but with laser-like concentration on the task at hand. With one and a half laps to go, Zakelj's body language indicated she was feeling fatigue and her nearest chaser Gorycka started making up ground.
Unlike the other leaders, Gorycka was covered with dust and dirt after crashing in the first lap. "On the last lap, I saw I was close to Tanja," said Gorycka. "It was my chance to have the bronze medal, and I wanted to do my best. It was hot, and the circuit was technically and physically demanding." Fortunately for the Polish rider, she felt better and better as she raced.
"It was very tough out there," said a tired Zakelj after finishing. "Annie and Alexandra and Paula were simply stronger than me. Sometimes in this sport, you don't always have luck. I did well in the World Cups, and I expected to be on the podium. Others didn't compete in all the World Cups, so maybe that was the reason, maybe I'm a bit tired?"
Zakelj said she'd hoped for a better result. Although she didn't finish at last year's worlds following a season when she was injured, she has previously won an under 23 Worlds title in 2008 and a junior Worlds title in 2006.
On the other hand, Batty was delighted with her fifth place finish, her best yet at Worlds. "I didn't have the greatest start, something I didn't want to have to say at the end of the race. But I ramped it up toward the end of the race. I left it all out there today. Maybe with another lap or lap and a half, I could have caught the third and fourth girls."
Batty started the race in ninth place and gradually picked off riders as the race progressed. She was cheered on by lots of Canadian friends and family, many of whom were wearing t-shirts saying "Emily Batty Fan Club".
"I can't thank everyone enough for coming out and supporting me," said Batty. "Now I'm going to enjoy the rest of the weekend. I'm going to run around like a crazy Canadian and cheer the rest of my teammates on. It's a hard race out here, and I know what they put into this kind of event. It's the last race of the year, and I know how hard you have to go.
Batty is a Mont Saint Anne veteran despite racing in the under 23 category. "I been racing on this course for 14 years," she said. "I like it and I know it so well. The last few weeks, I was waking up and realizing I'd been mentally on the course in my sleep. It was kind of freaky."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Alexandra Engen (Sweden)||1:30:33|
|2||Annie Last (Great Britain)||0:00:43|
|3||Paula Gorycka (Poland)||0:03:04|
|4||Tanja Zakelj (Slovenia)||0:03:31|
|5||Emily Batty (Canada)||0:03:49|
|6||Fanny Bourdon (France)||0:04:33|
|7||Barbara Benko (Hungary)||0:04:46|
|8||Kathrin Stirnemann (Switzerland)||0:05:09|
|9||Katarzyna Solus-Miskowiez (Poland)||0:06:24|
|10||Vera Andreeva (Russian Federation)||0:07:03|
|11||Samara Sheppard (New Zealand)||0:07:48|
|12||Julie Krasniak (France)||0:09:06|
|13||Zhuanzhuan Ye (People's Republic of China)||0:11:28|
|14||Mikaela Kofman (Canada)|
|15||Michelle Hediger (Switzerland)||0:11:40|
|16||Serena Calvetti (Italy)||0:12:35|
|17||Judith Pollinger (Italy)||0:13:12|
|18||Kseniya Kirillova (Russian Federation)||0:13:56|
|19||Vivienne Meyer (Switzerland)||0:14:00|
|20||Gracie Elvin (Australia)||0:14:04|
|21||Lily Matthews (Great Britain)||0:14:50|
|22||Noga Korem (Israel)||0:15:02|
|23||Ekaterina Anoshina (Russian Federation)||0:15:33|
|24||Mona Eiberweiser (Germany)||0:15:58|
|25||Elisabeth Sveum (Norway)||0:17:42|
|26||Andréanne Pichette (Canada)||0:18:58|
|-1 Lap||Mariske Strauss (South Africa)|
|-1 Lap||Daniela Rojas (Chile)|
|-1 Lap||Paula Quiros (Argentina)|
|-1 Lap||Rebecca Beaumont (Canada)|
|-1 Lap||Lydia Tanner (United States Of America)|
|-1 Lap||Therese Rhodes (Australia)|
|-1 Lap||Cassandre Olivier-Lapierre (Canada)|
|-2 Lap||Anne Terpstra (Netherlands)|
|DNF||Sage Wilderman (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Ashley Barson (Canada)|