• Bec Henderson in action at the Rio Olympic Games (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A back injury forced Australia's Rebecca Henderson to withdraw from the Olympic MTB cross country just two laps from the finish. Jenny Rissveds powered through the final lap to win Sweden's first cycling gold in 40 years.
By
Cycling Central

Source:
Reuters
21 Aug 2016 - 10:25 AM  UPDATED 21 Aug 2016 - 10:49 AM

With a good run of form coming in and a strong first loop around the 4.85km Rio Olympic course, a top 10 placing for Henderson looked a possibility. 

But a persistent back injury intensified as the pace did, the pain too much for the World number 11 rider as she navigated each tricky descent and rock garden. 

This saw the Canberran trail the pack by six minutes at the fourth lap and was withdrawn from the race under the 80 per cent rule (where a rider's time must be within 80 per cent rule of the leader's first lap time). 

"I was in agony all day," a disappointed Henderson said. 

"I have been managing my back all year, it had been pretty good all week and then, when the pressure was on, it sort of gave in."

"When it flares up, you can’t get any power through to your legs, you can’t even push a high heart rate.

Henderson said there was no opportunity for recovery out on the punishing course. 

"You’re pushing on the climbs and your upper body is working so hard on the descents, there is no recovery from it."

The Australian said she felt like she had let people down, a natural reaction expressed by many athletes at these games. 

"It is not a race you want to be getting pulled at 80%, so many people who helped me get here, and you want to do it for them as much as yourself.

"It is pretty tough to let so many people down."

But the Olympics must crown its winners and Sweden's Rissveds crossed the line first, 37 seconds ahead of Poland's Maja Wloszczowska. Canada's Catharine Pendrel, a favourite for the gold, claimed bronze after an early crash and amazing comeback. 

22-year-old Rissveds ripped around the course, handling the tricky rocky sections and descents like a rider beyond her years. With Wloszczowska for most of the race, the Swede powered away once the last lap bell rang.

Rissveds last lap was her fastest earning victory in a race she thought she would miss due to a training injury.

"I had six stitches in my knee and four in my elbow and I thought this is not going to work at all," she said, her knee plastered. 

"But the day after that I went out on the course and I felt so good. I was a little bit scared after that though.

"At the start line I just thought, stay cool and race my bike. This is for sure the biggest achievement in my career."

As it happened

Swiss rider Linda Indergand built a 15 second lead from the gate, setting an early fast pace. 

A bunch with Rissveds, Wloszczowska, fellow Swiss Jolanda Neff and Czech Katerina Nash present chewed up Indergand after two laps and spat her out the back of the pack. 

Neff tried to attack but Rissveds and Wloszczowska were there for the long haul and the Swiss favourite struggled on the fourth lap. 

Wloszczowska said she hung on to Rissveds for dear life. 

"I was still hoping for the victory but Jenny was super strong," the Beijing silver medalist said. 

Amazingly, Pendrel crashed early and fell back to 25th. But the Canadian hacked her way through the field for bronze.

"I had a crash then the (gear) selector wasn't working, I thought nothing's going right here," she said. "I just kept fighting through, and it paid off."

Gold, silver and bronze Olympic medalist Sabine Spitz (Germany) raced against doctor's orders with an infected cut, the world number two happy to finish 19th. 

"I was racing here against doctors' recommendations but I did not want to miss the Olympics," said the 44-year-old.