Marga Fullana (ESP) flew up and over the steep, grinding course to win the women's cross-country world title in an epic race, which lasted two hours, thirty one minutes.
Fullana, the winner of three World Cup rounds this season, held off late charges by Alison Sydor (CAN) and Paola Pezzo (ITA) to earn her second gold medal of the championships. She also won gold in the team relay squad earlier this week.
Following two days of rain, Fullana, who lives on the sunny island of Mallorca,woke up to see the sun shining brightly over the mountains of central Sweden and took the change in the weather as a good omen.
She attacked on the opening lap and rode to an unchallenged victory in the 35.9-km race, with a time of 2h31'59". "I was afraid it was going to be wet and rainy, but when I woke up today and saw the sun, I knew it was my day," said Fullana, winner of both the road and mountain bike national titles this season in Spain.
Fullana, one of the best climbers on circuit, came to Are fresh. She raced in only four World Cup rounds all season, winning at Madrid and Plymouth early in the year. Her third World Cup win came just two weeks ago in Belgium.
Fullana opened up a small gap on Sydor in the first climb, but the World Cup champion caught Fullana on the first descent and it looked like a long battle may be developing. But with each succeeding climb, Fullana would gain time on Sydor and the rest of field, and lose little or nothing on the descents. "I was careful on the first descent, but when I saw it wasn't going to be as wet and dangerous as I expected, I rode faster," said Fullana, waving the Spanish flag as she crossed the finish line. "I knew that I was climbing better and I knew it was a long race."
The race was about 30 to 45 minutes longer than the elite women are used to racing and the long distance took its toll in the later stages of the race. Several racers, including Barbara Blatter (SUI), fifth at 4'51" and Chantal Daucourt, seventh at 9'51", went over their limits early on and faded from contention. Fighting behind Fullana were longtime rivals Sydor and The Olympic champion, Pezzo. Both former world champions, the duo battled it out over the closing lap and a half.
Pezzo had a poor start and battled back from the top-15 to pull within 25 seconds of Sydor by the middle of the third lap. Pezzo passed Sydor on the first climb of the fourth lap, but suffered cramps and went down in a spill in the final descent. Sydor came on strong in the final lap to finish second at 1'47" back.
Pezzo came across the line at 3'09" back to take the bronze. Sydor said she slowed her pace in the second lap when she realized she wasn't making up time on Fullana. "I was riding to win in the first lap and a half, and I realized I was going a bit too hard for such a long race. I checked my pace a little bit and got my heart-rate down, then I had a good last lap. You're tired and everyone feels pretty crappy on the last lap, but I was able to push my heart-rate up pretty high," said Sydor. "In the worlds, you try everything you can to win, but at some point you have to accept that you're not making any advantage."
Pezzo said she's already gearing up to defend her Olympic title in Sydney next year and said a shift in her training program is causing her to lose a little bit of her climbing prowess. "I've been training different because the course in Sydney is very fast, so I think I'm not as good a climber as I used to be," Pezzo said. "I had a bad start and had to chase the whole race. In the technical parts it was hard to pass. I just kept going and going and when I passed Alison, I suffered cramps and then I crashed."
American Alison Dunlap had an excellent race, crossing the line fourth at 4'00" back to earn her career-best worlds result. She hung tough and nearly caught Pezzo on the final lap. "I stayed within myself and didn't go over my limit. A lot of people go out too hard. Blatter paid for it. I rode a good, solid race. In the last lap, these girls were right in front of me. On the last climb, Pezzo was right there, but I ran out of time," said Dunlap. "I decided to run most of the hard descents. I just committed to it and it worked out well."
Defending world champion Laurence Leboucher had a solid race after a disappointing season to finish eighth at 10'47". It was a reasonable end to a season in which she has been troubled by a thyroid problem. She described it as "The worst year of my life."
Pre-race favorite Gunn-Rita Dahle came into the worlds tired and retired after a head-on collision with a tree.
This report from the UCI.