For both the women’s and men’s races, the top 16 riders who’d qualified earlier in the week were split into two semi-finals. With three runs in each semi, riders would get a points score for their respective finishing positions in each run (one point for first, two for second etc) and the four riders with the lowest totals then progress to the final.
In the first and arguably tougher of the women’s semis, fastest qualifier Anne-Caroline Chausson (Fra) was joined by regular mountain bike World Cup winner Jana Horakova (Cze), Sarah Walker (NZ), Gabriela Diaz (Arg), Jenny Fahndrich (Sui), Amanda Soerensen (Den), Sammy Cools (Can) and home favourite Liyun Ma (Chn). Being considered as second favourite behind Britain’s Shanaze Reade clearly rankles with Chausson, holder of a record 13 rainbow jerseys from her glittering mountain biking career, and she was out of the gate on her first run in a bid to reassert her authority. Pedalling harder down the start ramp than her rivals, she carried more speed through the initial doubles and was already a couple of bike’s lengths’ ahead by the first high-sided berm. Her fluid handling’s always marked her apart from the opposition and this was no exception; the race was in the bag by the second bend and she cruised to the line. Trailing in behind her came Walker, Diaz and Fahndrich.
In her second and third runs Chausson looked even more assured, racking up a 20m advantage — the equivalent of one whole jump — in the second outing. In fact only Walker prevented the Frenchwoman bagging a hat-trick, but by the time she’d taken her foot off the gas in the third leg Chausson already knew she was safely through and cruising. She would be joined in the final by Walker, Diaz and Cools.
Meanwhile, in the second semi-final, reigning World Champion Reade lined up alongside three-time Mtb 4X World Champion Jill Kintner (USA), Laetitia le Corguille (Fra), Nicole Callisto (Aus), Tanya Bailey (Aus), Lieke Klaus (Ned), Maria Belen Dutto (Arg) and Aniko Hodi (Hun). With as much pre-Games hype as many ‘big name’ track stars, the pressure was on the 19-year-old Crewe youngster to perform. But cometh the hour, cometh the woman and Reade barrelled down the ramp on her first run like she was possessed. She was a well up on the field by the second jump, but clearly overcooking it into that steep left-hander. She slid out across the corner, an error exposing the kind of naivety many commentators feared, and was quickly passed by the chasing pack. After a couple of minutes she picked herself up and limped home, but it was a lesson that needed to be quickly heeded; the bookies’ stone dead cert would need something special to make the cut.
For all the frailty in her technique, Reade’s been well schooled and she knew that she had the beating of her challengers if she just kept her head. Again she hit the ramp flying on run two, showing that she’s unmistakenly the fastest starter in the sport. Conscious of her earlier mistake, however, she looked nervy, riding high on the corner. This allowed le Corguille through on the inside and the French woman was away. Reade had lost so much speed and momentum that she had to dig deep and summon her track champion alter-ego’s power just to hold her place. She was riding on her nerves, looking ragged and struggling to manual her way through the straight-forward rhythm section. Messy stuff, but her second place moved her up into fifth after two runs; Kintner and Klaus again took third and fourth.
Looking steely-eyed on the big screen at the far end of the course, Reade was a study in determination; only a high finish would be good enough. Her explosive start didn’t let her down though and she once again found herself safely in front by that critical corner. This time she didn’t panic and was able to muscle her way into a substantial lead, clocking up the day’s fastest time in the process. Behind her the consistent trio of le Corguille, Kintner and Callisto would also head into the final.
So the stage was set for a re-run of the last Worlds, a two-horse decider between Chausson and Reade. Reade took her place in gate one, with Chausson two places to her right. And, as if it had been scripted, the two great rivals were quickest away and neck-to-neck at the end of the first straight. But, once again, it was the first berm that was to prove decisive. Reade had entered too straight, allowing Chausson to pull off a classic ‘high-low’ pass on the inside; it was the move of the day and the French legend had outwitted the young pretender. Reade’s power kept her close, but her rival wasn’t conceding an inch. It was all or nothing as they went into the final corner and, in trying to pull off a do-or-die pass herself, Reade clipped Chausson’s rear tyre and went flying. The crowd gasped. Chausson bushed it off and was able to cruise to the line for an amazing victory. As Reade still lay prone, le Corguille and Kintner skipped through delightedly to take silver and bronze. It was the kind of dramatic finish that you’d hope for an inaugural event, but not one that that would please the British team. Reade was left aggrieved by that last bend clash, feeling she was ‘closed out’ by her rival, so after the medal ceremony MBR asked Chausson for her thoughts. She said: “In BMX you’re often not aware where people are. I chose a not-too-open line but was surprised to see her on the inside. Usually when a rider catches a wheel like that the second rider comes off worse, so I think she made a mistake. But it’s great for the French team.”
Asked whether she thought that pass on the first berm was the key to her win, Chausson added: “I have Laetitia to thank for showing me that line as it’s the way she passed Reade in the second run of the semi-final. I knew that if I pulled it off and got through, then I had the strength to hold on to win. It all worked out and I’m very happy.”
Gold — Anne-Caroline Chasson (Fra) 35.976secs
Silver — Laetitia le Corguille (Fra) 38.042secs
Bronze — Jill Kintner (USA) 38.674secs