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By Andrew Hood
Finishing second might be good enough for some riders, but not for three-timeworld champion Alison Sydor.
The 37-year-old mountain biking legend missed the gold medal by a painfullysmall gap of 16 seconds behind rock solid German Sabine Spitz in Sunday’s elitewomen’s world championships.
“It’s the world championships I always want to win,” said Sydor, whosuccumbed to Spitz in the final lap of the 36.9km race. “I’m not thinkingabout medals. I want to win.”
Sydor set a punishing pace early with two-time world champion MargaFullana but Spitz clawed back on with two laps to go to grab Germany’sfirst cross-country gold medal by just 16 seconds. Russian Irina Kalentievaheld tough to take third at 1:59 back.
“When I saw Alison on the paved climb with two laps to go, I saw herspinning not as strong,” said Spitz, who took bronze at the last two world’s.”I thought to myself, go at your own speed and try to make a gap.”
Sydor and Spitz came in together for the bell lap of the rocky and dustySwiss rollercoaster. Spitz dropped the three-time world champion on a longpaved climb, but Sydor almost caught back on after Spitz twice veered off-courseand got tangled up in race tape.
“It was a really hard fight in the end. I didn’t back off and I didn’tmake any big mistakes,” said Sydor, who claimed her fifth career silvermedal at world’s. “Sabine is a strong technical rider, so I couldn’t expectto make up any ground on the descents. A race like this is exciting foreveryone, except for the person who finishes second.”
The main selection was made over the opening two of six laps, when Fullanaand Sydor traded jabs as they chugged away from the pack. Fullana tumbledtwice in the opening lap – once each on the two primary technical descents– but quickly brushed herself off to stay with the superior bike handlerSydor.
Only Kalentieva and Spitz could stay close while Switzerland’s BarbaraBlatter, American Susan Haywood, German Ivonne Kraft and Canadian Marie-HelenePremont stayed within one minute.
In the opening of the third lap, Fullana lost her line on a sweepingleft turn over dusty roots and had to jump off the bike. Sydor and Kalentievaswooped past while Fullana was forced to deal with a mechanical problemand fell back to fifth coming through the feed zone. Fullana was laterdisqualified after receiving illegal mechanical help
The Americans enjoyed a banner day, with Susan Haywood taking sixthat 5:48 back and joined four teammates in the top 20. Kerry Barnholt –a last-minute addition after 2001 world champ Alison Dunlap announced shewould skip the trip to Lugano – took an impressive 12th while Willow Koerbergrabbed 16th, Mary McConneloug 18th and Shonny Vanlandingham 20th.
“This course is like a long short track. That’s my specialty so I knewI would do okay,” said Haywood, competing in her third world’s. “I wantedto make the lead group in the first lap and settle into my own rhythm.”
Sydor was on cruise control through lap four, holding Spitz and Kalentievato a 20-second margin. But Spitz dropped the Russian on lap five and quicklybridged to the Canadian.
“The start was perfect for me but then it left me alone at the fronta little earlier than I would have like,” Sydor said. “When you’re at thefront, feeling good, it’s the world’s – you gotta go. But I had a littleproblem maintaining my pace and Sabine joined me.”
Spitz was fresher over the final lap and that made the difference. Thebig German roared into the finish to take the gold while Sydor took herninth world championship medal of her career.
Kalentieva earned Russia’s first mountain bike world championship medalafter suffering through the final lap to clinch the bronze.
“Kraft was coming behind me and I pushed all the energy I had to. Iwas thinking, I have to take my medal,” Kalentieva said. “I am very happywith this medal. The second to last lap was very hard for me.”It just wasn’t defending world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle’s day. Despitethe presence of hundreds of flag-waving, horn-wearing Norwegians, Dahlestruggled with tire problems early on and finished 23rd, 14:35 back.Australian Mary Grigson was 17th at 12:16 in her swansong world’s whileNORBA champion Jimena Florit finished 23rd, 17:12 back.UCI world mountain bike championship, elite women’s cross-country,36.9km
1. Sabine Spitz (G), 2:07:59 (17.3 kph)
2. Alison Sydor (Can) +0:16
3. Irina Kalentieva (Rus) +1:59
4. Ivonne Kraft (G)) +2:58
5. Marie-Helene Premont (Can) +4:15
6. Susan Haywood (USA) +5:48
7. Maja Wloszczowska (Pol) +5:53
8. Elspeth Vink-Van Rooy (Ned) +6:30
9. Magdalena Sadlecka (Pol) +7:50
10. Petra Henzi (Swi) +8:28Other North Americans
12. Kerry Barnholt (USA) +9:30
16. Willow Koerber (USA) +11:55
18. Mary McConneloug (USA) +12:20
19. Kiara Bisaro (Can) +12:49
20. Shonny Vanlandingham (USA) +14:07
33. Karen De Wolfe (Can) +18:06
35. Dara Marks (USA) +18:24
38. Trish Sinclair (Can) +19:54
– 2 laps: 45. Chrissy Redden (Can); 50. Lorenza Morfin (Mex); 59. GretchenReeves (USA); 63. Sandra Walker (Can); -3 laps: 64. Carla Zalgado (Mex)
69 ranked riders, 11 DNF; 1 DSQ (Fullana)