London - France’s Julie Bresset scrambled to Olympic gold in the women’s mountain bike race Saturday.
The reigning world junior and European champion, 23, won by over a minute in the 28.4-kilometre race on the Hadleigh Farm course.
Beijing 2008 champion Sabine Spitz, 40, took silver for Germany after holding off Georgia Gould of the US, a three-time national champion who won bronze.
Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa was a surprise retirement, the Athens 2004 champion stopping halfway through the race.
The Hadleigh Farm track boasts steep climbs and rocky descents designed to make the race a test of skill and stamina.
“I wanted to be at the front, to be in control of things in the technical parts so as not to lose any precious time,” said Bresset.
“I was really concentrated from start to finish. I knew when I had to drink and to eat, I wanted to have every angle covered.”
It was only last year Bresset won the under-23 world title but since then she has claimed victory in the 2012 World Cup series.
Yet she admitted beating a strong field which contained Canada’s world champion Catharine Pendrel and Last to the Olympic title was the last thing on her mind.
“To be quite honest, I never thought I’d be capable of achieving what I’ve achieved today,” she said.
Only a mishap on one of the several technical sections on the course looked likely to threaten Bresset’s charge towards the gold medal.
But she avoided the potential dangers in the ‘Rock Garden’, ‘Dean’s Drop’, ‘Snake Hill’ and the ‘Rabbit Hole’ to leave her rivals playing a desperate game of catch-up.
Bresset went on to finish the race in 1hr 30min 52sec, with defending champion Spitz coming over the finish line at 1min 02sec and Gould crossing at 1:08.
At 40 years and 228 days old, Spitz became the oldest medal winner in an individual cycling event since Jeannie Longo won time trial bronze in Sydney 2000 at the age of 41.
Having won silver in Athens and gold in Beijing, she was delighted at completing her medals collection.
“It’s amazing, the three different medals. It’s perfect,” said Spitz.
“When I crashed I lost a bit of my rhythm, it took me half a lap to get it back. Georgia overtook me but I managed to stay on her wheel. By that time, Julie was 33secs in the lead and the gap just got bigger and bigger.”
Gould had a comparatively slow start and despite fighting her way to the front said all hope of chasing down Bresset was ended by the German’s crash.
“We were together then Sabine made a little mistake in one of the rock sections and she had to get off her bike, so I had to get off my bike and that was what allowed Julie to get that initial gap,” said Gould.
“Then we were back and forth a little bit, me and Sabine. She was a little bit stronger there in the end.”