Frenchman defends mountain bike gold

  • Associated Press
  • Saturday, August 23, 2008 9:07am
  • SportsSports

BEIJING — Julien Absalon of France won his second straight Olympic gold medal in men’s mountain biking Saturday, easily holding off countryman Jean-Christophe Peraud for the title.

Earlier, Sabine Spitz of Germany took the women’s title, leading almost from start to finish.

A four-time world champion, Absalon completed eight laps around the course in 1 hour, 55 minutes, 59 seconds to become the first man with two Olympic mountain biking titles.

Absalon broke away from the field in the first half of the race and nobody could catch him.

“It’s never easy to win an Olympic title, but perhaps it was well-managed,” Absalon said. “We got away in a three, so then at least we all had a medal, and when I saw the chance to go ahead, I did so.”

“But in mountain biking anything can happen. You can have heatstroke or a technical problem. The last part of the last lap was very difficult,” he said. “I only knew I was going to win after I did the last descent and came into the stadium, because then I could walk over the line if necessary.”

Peraud finished 1:07 behind Absalon. Switzerland’s Nino Schurter was third, finishing 1:53 behind Absalon and beating fellow Swiss racer Christoph Sauser — the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist and current world champion — to the finish line by two seconds.

“I realized that I was better going uphill than he was,” Schurter said. “I was able to hold him off on the straights, and the last 15 seconds I definitely had the better of him.”

Schurter, 22, is seen as the great hope for Switzerland, one of the strongest mountain biking nations in the world. Absalon said he thought Schurter would be the favorite for London 2012, although when asked if he himself would compete there, he responded, “Why not?”

In the women’s race, which was postponed from Friday because of heavy rain, Spitz added the title to the bronze she won at the Athens Games four years ago.

She finished six laps in 1:45.11. She stopped about five meters from the finish, hopped off her bike and carried it across the finish line.

Spitz had led almost from the beginning. She said she managed to get ahead of world champion Margarita Fullana on the first lap and from then on she was on her own.

“I was very pleased. I could hear some shouts behind me. Then I was able to get into the rhythm and maintain that. I was relatively relaxed,” she said.

Spitz, 36, is the 2003 world champion and competing in her third Olympics. She said she believed that sometimes being a little older was a benefit in mountain biking.

“Mountain biking is a very tough sport mentally, so with age you can get stronger,” she said.

She added that when she stood on the podium she would have liked to have had a sign that read: “It is possible to win without doping.”

Maja Wloszczowska of Poland won the silver, finishing 41 seconds behind Spitz. Irina Kalentieva of Russia won the bronze, another 36 seconds back.

“I’ve worked very hard for this. It is the work of many people,” Wloszczowska said.

Defending gold medalist Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa of Norway only completed three laps before dropping out, citing mechanical problems. Marie-Helene Premont of Canada, the silver medalist from Athens, had breathing problems and only completed one lap. Fullana also pulled out before the end.

Catharine Pendrel of Canada fought Kalentieva all the way for the bronze medal, but couldn’t keep up with her on the last lap.

“Irina is a really strong competitor. I made a shifting error on the last lap and she got ahead of me. It definitely would be nice to be standing on that podium,” Pendrel said.

The mountain biking competitions mark the end of the Olympic cycling program. Britain topped the table with eight of the 18 gold medals awarded, while Spain and France won two each and there were single golds for Switzerland, the United States, Argentina, the Netherlands, Germany and Latvia.

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