Denmark’s Rasmussen Wins Men’s Cross-Country Gold For the fourth time in
mountain bike world championship history, Denmark won the Elite men’s gold medal
in cross-country racing Sunday, as Michael Rasmussen (DEN) surprised
everyone but himself with a dominant race for victory. After struggling with his
form for nearly two seasons, the thin blonde Dane took control early in a demanding
four-lap race – and never relinquished his command until arriving at the deafeningly
loud finish line two hours and fourteen minutes later, in ecstasy.
Michael Rasmussen“It was beautiful,” said a tearful Rasmussen upon
his arrival at the finish, after he managed to hold off ’98 U-23 World Champion Miguel
Martinez (FRA) – racing in his first senior World’s – gapping the diminutive
Frenchman by nearly two minutes after 39 kilometres.
“I was way stronger on the climbs than Miguel, but he caught me on the descents,”
he continued. “I knew if I had at least half a minute on the top of the first
climb [in the final lap], then he would not be able to catch me before the finish.”
The men covered this double-loop course in Åre at full speed despite the
muddy conditions from early-morning rains, 103 international riders going hard from
the gun in a single-file line that quickly broke up into small groups by the top
of the Village Loop’s extended climb.
Leading that first charge was the race favourite – defending World Champion and winner
of the World Cup final round in Belgium two weeks ago, Christophe Dupouey.
While the man who crushed his competitors in Houffalize held a sizeable gap up front
for the first full lap, he was quickly reeled in by two other outstanding athletes
– Bas Van Dooren (NED) and Rasmussen.
Rasmussen had been the only rider to come close to Dupouey in the Belgium final,
and rather than play catch up as he was forced to in that race, rode with power from
the start today. “I missed Dupouey in Belgium, as I didn’t know if I had
the power to ride with him,” Rasmussen said. “But this time I was
right on him from the start. It was the ride of my life, and I felt great all day.”
After assuming the lead in the second lap, Rasmussen led three other contenders
up the long climbs and down the technical, muddy descents. Martinez rode in second,
Van Dooren in third, with Dupouey steady in fourthÖ until a mechanical problem with
his rear derailleur cable made him the race’s first casualty, forcing him to retire.
While there was movement in the lower positions for the podium – most notably steady
performances from Belgians Filip Meirhaeghe and Roel Paulissen
behind Van Dooren, it was soon clear that Rasmussen and Martinez were the ones to
watch for victory.
But Martinez simply couldn’t stay with the flying Dane, and soon lost any hope of
catching him. “He was faster than me on the climbs, I was faster on the descents,”
said Martinez after receiving the silver medal for his steady performance.
“I tried hard to catch him mid-race, but fell on the descent.”
In the final lap, Van Dooren fell back two positions, setting up Meirhaeghe for
his second consecutive bronze medal. “I was chasing all day in 10th place,
but I never gave up. On the final climb I attacked for the medal, and am very happy
with third place this year,” said Meirhaeghe.
Rasmussen’s gold medal today adds to the bronze medal he won as a Junior in Bromont’s
1992 championships. And, combined with Henrik Djernis’ three consecutive gold medals
from ’92-’94, gives Denmark five total medals in men’s XC racing – the winningest
country in the senior division. And as for the great Djernis, he placed 17th and
put the race into perspective: “This is one of the hardest races I have ever
done, the course is so hard, there’s no recovery at all.”