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Olympic Games 2012: Olympic Women's Mountain Bike Race


Hello and welcome to Cyclingnews' 2012 Olympic Games live coverage of the elite women's mountain bike race.  We'll bring you all the action from Hadleigh Farm near London today.

The women's cross country will start in about 10 minutes.  Stay tuned!

The women are being introduced, one at a time for call-up to the start line.

There are huge crowds out here at Hadleigh Farms.   The sun is out and it's a beautiful day to watch a mountain bike race.  This 4.7km course is unusually open for a mountain bike race - you can see a lot of it because it is on a farm and not in the woods.  It also doubles back on itself a bit and is fairly densely packed in a small area.

Racers will do a short start loop before heading out into lap 1.  Defending Olympic champion from 2008, Sabine Spitz (Germany) gets to wear the #1 bib.  There are 30 women total on the start line.

It feels a little strange to see the ladies in their national team kits instead of their usual trade team jerseys, which they wear at the World Cups and other international races.

The gun fires and they are off.  Six laps to go

The pace is high from the start.  Initially, they are on a gravel road type track. Looks like Annie Last (Great Britain) is setting the pace early on.

Then Sabine Spitz (Germany) joins her at the front.

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway) goes down in the rock garden.  Not a good way to start.

Another rider crashes further back - no doubt they are all at their limit from the start and it's easy to make mistakes.

There are lots of places on the course where riders can chose between two obvious lines.  One is usually harder than the other and often requires more technical skills.  Riders who can make those moves often get a slight time advantage there.

Georgia Gould leads Julie Bresset (France), then one of the Swiss ladies.    The leaders are a group of five with a slight gap to the chasers.

Julie Bresset sets the pace on the climb which zig zags up the hill back and forth.  Gould is immediately behind her.   Then Sabine Spitz

Now there is a group of about 11 riders all strung out in a row at the front.  World champion Catharine Pendrel is in there.  She's not right at the front, but as we've seen in recent World Cups, she is often not the fastest starter and ends up working her way back up.

Emily Batty (Canada) is riding injured today. According to her partner Adam Morka, she took a crash on the fastest downhill section of the course Tuesday, August 7. Its a small rock table top on the fastest downhill near the very end of the course. She essentially came in with too much speed and the back wheel bucked her over the bars, she got launched over the handlebars at 40+KPH.

Much to the delight of the British fans fans, Annie Last is at the front setting the pace as Julie Bresset sits on her.  These two young ladies, one a U23 rider and one a first-year elite are the future of the sport.

As we expected, Catharine Pendrel is back up there in the mix.  She and Sabine Spitz are third and fourth, right behind Julie Bresset and Annie Last.

Catharine Pendrel bobbles a bit on a rock on the course and has to dab, as does Sabine Spitz, but they are right back up there.

Katerina Nash (Czech) is chasing in 5th.  The top American is her Luna Teammate Georgia Gould (USA) in 9th.

The women are onto lap 2.  Now Julie Bresset takes a turn at the front.

This rock garden is more like a rock trench.  It is a definite advantage to be at the front as the leader gains a few seconds on each follower in it.

Lea Davison (USA) is getting some big cheers from an enthusiastic spectator as she passes, 18 minutes into the race.

So we have lead group: Annie Last, Julie Bresset, Annie Last, Sabine Spitz.  Then chasers Katerina Nash, Katrin Leuman Irina Kalentieva, Georgia Gould

The four leaders are constant changing up their places.  No one wants to be at the back of that group and risk getting gapped if someone in front of her makes a mistake.

The gap between leaders and chasers is small - maybe five seconds.

It's interesting to see Sabine Spitz (Germany) in there.  The veteran racer is a great champion and will want to defend her gold medal, but she has not been at the front as much this year in World Cups.  Though if anyone knows how to pull off a good ride on a big day, it's her.

Canada's Catharine Pendrel was the favorite going into the race.  As World Champion and World Cup champion, she is probably the most consistent rider on the circuit - both in terms of showing up for all the races and doing well at them.

In 2008, the medals went to Sabine Spitz, Maja Wloszczowska and Irina Kalentieva.  Sadly for Wloszczowska, she had to sit out this Olympics after breaking her foot a few weeks ago in a training crash in Italy.

Prior to the race, the riders were saying what a fast course it would be, and indeed it is. They are flying around this course. 

Julie Bresset and Sabine Spitz punch it on the climb.  Catharine Pendrel shows her excellent descending skills by moving back up into second in a rock garden that's slightly downhill.  Spitz is leading at the moment.

27 minutes into the race - that's about a third of the expected total time of about 1:30.

Annie Last is struggling to hang with the three leaders and is slightly gapped off. We have seen this before ... where Last is able to be at the front early on, but can't quite hold the pace throughout the race. No doubt that ability will come with a bit more age and experience.

The leaders fly through the feed/tech zone. All three do bottle hand-off.s

Julie Bresset (France) is back at the front, setting the pace on the climb.  She is clearly riding strong today, especially uphill.

Julie Bresset has opened up a slight gap on Sabine Spitz and Catharine Pendrel.

Georgia Gould is the top chaser now, just ahead of Annie Last., then Irina Kalentieva.  Katerina Nash and Katrin Leumann follow across the line at the end of Lap 2.

We've seen Julie Bresset at the front of many World Cups.  Even when she was a U23 racer last year, she was winning elite women's World Cups.

Sabine Spitz is riding in second, just behind Julie Bresset.

Georgia Gould (USA) has caught her Luna trade teammate Catharine Pendrel (Canada) and passed her. It's likely the two will work together now, assuming they both have the legs.

Georgia Gould has bridged up to Julie Bresset and Sabine Spitz.  Catharine Pendrel is just a little behind them.

Georgia Gould has never won a World Cup, but she is motivated. She came so close twice this summer.  She led in Mont-Sainte-Anne until fading on the last lap.  In Windham, she was on track to win until a flat tire just before the finish... there her two teammates caught and passed her right at the end. 

Julie Bresset is still looking like the strongest climber on the day.  The three leaders - Bresset, Gould and Spitz - have 10 seconds on the chasers as they go back through the tech zone.

Irina Kalentieva, Catharine Pendrel and Annie Last are riding in fourth through sixth - together.

Such a fast start has taken its toll on some of the riders.  It will be interesting to see how the leaders hold up.

With it being bright and sunny, the course conditions are nice and dry today, making the track quite fast.

Julie Bresset is riding with some bandages on her arm and leg.    Looks like she must have gotten some "road rash" during practice on the course this week.  So far, it doesn't seem to be slowing her down.

Julie Bresset, Sabine Spitz and Georgia Gould have been staying together in that order - no lead changes.  They have about 18 seconds on the three chasers.  Gould probably has it the hardest ... at the back of the three, she constantly has to close the gaps that keep opening up naturally on this very dynamic course.  Psychologically, it's so much easier to be setting the pace at the front because you can gun it and back it off exactly at the places that suit you.

Despite the rocks placed throughout this man-made course, all three leaders are on hardtails.

Julie Bresset has gapped her two companions no the climb again at the end of the lap.  She crosses under the line with three laps down with a four second advantage.

Irina Kalentieva and Annie Last are next at 32 seconds.

It'll be interesting to see if Spitz and Gould can close back on Bresset.

Sabine Spitz goes down hard in the rock garden.  That holds up Georgia Gould and both riders have to walk and carry their bikes to the end of the garden.

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa is seen walking her bike up a hill, with a flat rear tire.  She looks over across the course at the leaders.  No medal for the Norwegian this time around. 

Sabine Spitz's crash was good for one person: Julie Bresset, who extended her lead.  Both Spitz and Gould are back riding again together.

In the chase group, a tired looking Annie Last is struggling to hold onto Irina Kalentieva. Esther Suss and Catharine Pendrel are just behind her.

The thing about mountain bike racing is that anything can happen any time, especially mechanically or crash-wise.  No matter how comfortable your lead seems, a flat tire or crash can quickly erase an advantage.  So it's a fine balance between riding conservatively enough to not puncture or crash, but fast enough to maintain your lead.

Julie Bresset rides alone through the tech zone, 3.5 laps in, in first place.

Georgia Gould has come around Sabine Spitz and is riding in second place, 20 seconds back.  Sabine Spitz is in third at 23 seconds.  Irina Kalentieva is not much further back at 41 seconds while Annie Last is at 56 seconds.

At the moment, Georgia Gould is looking like she is feeling better than Sabine Spitz.  That crash may have shaken up Spitz a bit, ruining her momentum.

In addition to her gold medal in Beijing, Sabine Spitz also won a bronze medal in 2004 in Athens.  She is 40 years old.

Georgia Gould has got to be amped to be riding in medal contention.  The US has won just one mountain bike Olympic medal since the sport was included in the Olympic Games in 1996 in Atlanta.  That one was courtesy of Susan DeMattei... you can read a recent interview with her as she looked back and remember her achievement.

Sabine Spitz has caught back up to Georgia Gould.  We'll see if the two women are able to stay together and possibly even work together. 

Sabine Spitz catches and passes Georgia Gould.  Sometimes it can take a little while to recover from a crash like she had.  You have to get back into your groove again and get your confidence back.

Julie Bresset takes a drink as she crosses under the finish line with two laps to go.  At one hour into the race, she is exactly on a track for a 1:30-length race. 

Sabine Spitz comes in at 33 seconds.  Georgia Gould crosses the line at 38 seconds.

Irina Kalentieva is fourth at 56 seconds.  Annie Last and Esther Suss are together at 2:22 and 1:25 in fifth and sixth.

Poland's Aleksandra Dawidowicz is having a great line and rolls across with World Champion Catharine Pendrel in seventh and eighth.

It's a great ride for Esther Suss of Switzerland.  She was marathon world champion in 2010 and seems to be able to race fast in both short and long distances.  Earlier this season she raced to a win with Sally Bigham at the 8-day Cape Epic mountain bike stage race.

Irina Kalentieva (Russia) may be the most dangerous rider in the race from the perspective of Sabine Spitz and Georgia Gould.  If anyone has proven she can ride strong all race and catch them and take away a medal, it's Kalentieva, who won bronze in 2008.  The Russian is also a former world champion and looks like she is still riding strong. 

At the front, Julie Bresset is making it look easy.  She has 40 seconds on Sabine Spitz and 48 seconds on Georgia Gould.  She is spinning effortlessly up the climb.   Kinda reminds us of another stellar French rider... two-time Olympic gold medallist Julien Absalon, who will race tomorrow in the elite men's race.

Irina Kalentieva is still on her own at 1:08, chasing.  Esther Suss and Annie Last follow.

Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland) is just behind them. She was also 10th in Beijing.

With this course being so exposed to the sun and the race being at mid-day, cramping will be a real concern of the riders.  Unlike on most mountain bike courses, there are no significantly shady sections to give breaks from the sun.

Another well known mountain bike race, the Leadville 100, is happening a bit later today in Colorado.  That's where all the marathon / endurance mountain bikers are today while the cross country top stars are all here. Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.

Lea Davison (USA) is riding in 11th place.

The injured Emily Batty (Canada)  is also still in the race, very near to the back.  She must be suffering hugely to be hanging in there with at least one broken bone.

One lap to go for Julie Bresset, who crosses the line in 1:15:45, 24.24km into the race.

Sabine Spitz (Germany) leads Georgia Gould (USA) across the line with one to go. They are 57 and 58 seconds behind Bresset, respectively.

Irina Kalentieva (Russia) is still in no woman's land, chasing at 1:23.

Sabine Spitz and Georgia Gould are both still together, with Spitz generally setting the pace and looking stronger.  Should it come down to a sprint, it will be interesting to see who is faster.

Barring catastrophe, Julie Bresset (France) should ride to her first-ever Olympic medal, a gold, in just a matter of minutes.

Sabine Spitz and Georgia Gould are at 57 seconds and 1:00.  Irina Kalentieva is chasing at about 1:23.

Sabine Spitz is stretching the elastic on Georgia Gould.  Gould looks visibly tired in her body language through a rock garden.  We'll see if she can close back in on Spitz.

Even Julie Bresset is starting to look a little tired, based on her upper body language.  But at this point, she will be riding on adrenaline.

Georgia Gould (USA) is gritting her teeth as she tries to keep Sabine Spitz from getting further way.

Julie Bresset zips up her French team jersey, with the finish line in sight.

She coasts toward the finish, savouring the cheers of fans and with a big smile on her face.

A jubilant Julie Bresset wins gold, crossing the line holding a French flag.

1:30:52 is the winning time for Bresset.

Sabine Spitz (Germany) rolls across the finish for a silver medal in 1:02.  Now she has one Olympic medal of each color - quite a collection.

Georgia Gould (USA) wins bronze at 1:08.

Irina Kalentieva (Russia) is fourth at 1:41.  Esther Suss (Switzerland) is 5th at 1:54.

Alexandra Engen rides into sixth for Sweden at 2:16. 

Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland) is seventh at 2:28.

To large cheers, Annie Last finishes 8th at 2:55

World champion Catharine Pendrel (Canada) finishes it off in ninth at 3:36.

Tanja Zakelj (Slovenia) rounds out the top 10 at 3:49.

American Lea Davison finishes 11th at 4:22. She is followed by Qinglan Shi (China) in 12th.

Racers continue to roll in one by one.  We'll have full results posted on our race report page as soon as all are done.

That wraps up our live coverage for the Olympic elite women's cross country race.  Thanks for joining us, and we hope you'll be back for one final Olympic cycling event tomorrow - the elite men's cross country race, which will start at 1:30 pm local London time.

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