A Swiss team, led by Jolanda Neff, won every medal available in the women’s cross-country mountain bike race, a first in Olympic history. On Tuesday in Tokyo, Switzerland swept the medals thanks to the performances of S. Frei (silver) and Linda Indergand (bronze).
The last time American men went undefeated in every track event is 1904, when such events were still being held. Switzerland dominated cross-country mountain biking, winning four out of a possible six medals, including silver in the men’s race thanks to Mathias Flueckiger.
Typhoon Nepartak poured torrential rain on the bone-dry course overnight, prompting to a one lap cut of the race (to five from six, plus the start loop) and other rapid alterations to the course.
After yesterday’s fall by Dutch rider Mathieu van der Poel over a drop, the rock garden at that spot was redirected and a ramp was built. Reduced from 4.1 to 3.85 kilometres, the circuit’s length is more manageable.
Loana Lecomte of France was the heavy pre-race favourite after going undefeated in World Cup competition leading up to the Olympics. Other favourites – based on the World Cup – included defending Olympic winner Jenny Rissveds (Sweden), world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (France) and Rebecca McConnell (Australia) (Australia).
All of them would struggle in the wet and windy conditions, with Lecomte coming in sixth, Ferrand-Prévot in tenth, Rissveds in fourteenth (after getting a flat tyre), and McConnell in twent-eighth.
Since Neff still appeared to be healing from a serious crash in late 2019, in which she damaged her spleen and suffered a collapsed lung, she was not included among the probable medalists. As she began to show hints of her old form this season, she then shattered her hand at the penultimate round of the World Cup going into the Games, only six weeks ago.
Despite the fact that the newly muddy circumstances looked to put everyone else in a bind, Neff excelled. Well known for her remarkable technical skills, Neff rarely put a foot wrong. Neff rode confidently when others fell, crashed, or were forced to flee.
“You need talents, you need everything,” Neff remarked, referring to the requirements of the race. “Whoever wins this race is going to be a deserved champion,” he added. Just the fact that I won on this day and at this track means the world to me.
Lecomte took the early lead, as he usually does, with Ferrand-Prévot and Rissveds close behind at the finish of the first circuit. As soon as the riders entered the first lap, however, everything changed. Neff took the lead, with only Ferrand-Prévot able to keep up. Ferrand-Prévot then crashed while Neff floated as they entered a brief steep descent followed by a cobbled climb.
Neff rolled over the top of the hill with her momentum, while Ferrand-Prévot stopped short of the summit and tumbled sideways into the tape, eliminating her chances of winning gold.
After Lecomte, the next three riders were Evie Richards (Great Britain), the other two Swiss cyclists, and Richards. But Neff was clear and wouldn’t be seen again. At the end of the first lap, she was leading by 19 seconds, and by the end of the race, she had more than a minute on second place.
It appeared that Ferrand-Prévot was beginning to pull away from the two Swiss chasers towards the end of the second lap. Then, on the big Wasabi climb, she collapsed, finishing sixth, 45 seconds behind S. Frei and Indergand and over two minutes behind Neff. The chase group included Lecomte, Richards, and Anne Tauber (Netherlands).
Moreover, a 19-year-old Hungarian newcomer named Kata Blanka Vas was enjoying a fantastic rise from the back of the pack.
Blanka Vas just joined with the SD Worx UCI WorldTeam on the road after winning silver in the Under-23 mountain bike world championships and silver and bronze in the U-23 cyclo-cross world championships. At the end of the race, she came in at number four, just missing out on a medal by a single lap.
At the end of lap 4, it appeared that the Swiss would sweep the medals, with just S. Frei and Indergand’s silver medal finishes up in the air.
Even though S. Frei had the upper hand on the steeper slopes, Indergand continued coming back on the easier terrain. She was not able to catch up to her teammate because of the steep incline in the final 500 metres before the finish line.