Olympic mountain biking made a thrilling arrival at Izu race course on Monday, with a high-drama race fit for the event’s stature. Tom Pidcock proved he is one of his generations great talents, winning Great Britain’s first mountain bike Olympic medal – of any colour – with a brilliant performance in Japan.
Peter Disera rides for Canada
Canada had a single men’s mountain bike spot in the 2021 Olympics. That went to Peter Disera, who finished 26th in Japan. The Ontario racer waved as he crossed the line in his Olympic debut.
Mathieu van der Poel’s Olympic plans come tumbling down
De olympische droom van Mathieu van der Poel lijkt voorbij door een zware val pic.twitter.com/ILy0eYZ5NY
— WielerFlits.nl (@WielerFlits) July 26, 2021
An expected showdown between Tom Pidcock, Mathieu van der Poel and Nino Schurter ended earlier, and more suddenly than expected. Van der Poel has made Tokyo a target, part of his ambitious multi-disciplinary calendar, for years. While much of that plan has gone as written – the Dutch phenom won a Tour de France stage and wore the yellow jersey earlier this month, the Olympics did not co-operate. Instead, van der Poel crashed hard on a significant rock drop, going over the bars and tumbling at high speed down the grass slope. Riders behind dodged the van der Poel as he and his bike careened down the slope.
Always tough, and constantly trying to honour his sport, van der Poel eventually remounted his bike and continued the race. In visible pain, the Dutch rider pulled out with less than two laps to go in the seven lap Olympic men’s race. It remains to be seen what his injuries from the crash are.
Pidcock pushes for glory
With van der Poel out of contention, Pidcock’s main rivals were two Swiss riders. Nino Schurter, already an Olympic champion, and Mathias Flueckiger, the current World Cup leader and winner at the last two World Cup rounds.
Half way through the race, the British rider started pushing the pace. Pidcock used his combination of climbing prowess and technical ability to break up the front group. Schurter initially tried to follow the 21-year-old’s aggressions, but faded back after nearly crashing on a sweeping grass downhill corner.
The fresh Izu course was creating difficulty for several riders, not just Schurter. Mathias Flueckiger took up the pursuit when Schurter faded. Flueckiger held the gap to just a handful of seconds. He looked to be closing in on Pidcock, slightly, when he spun out in the deep dust at the crest of a climb. Pidcock’s advantage grew instantly to 12 seconds, where it would remain for much of the race.
It wasn’t until the final lap that Pidcock opened up his lead. As the bronze medal group faded over the laps, Flueckiger fought to control his deficit to the Brit. That worked, until the seventh lap. Pidcock accelerated, further distancing the Swiss rider.
Pidcock cross the line with room to breathe and time to grab a Union Jack flag from the – small – crowd. He win’s Great Britain’s first Olympic medal in mountain biking, and makes it gold
Flueckiger takes silver, a strong showing from the Swiss rider.
Behind, Anton Cooper and Nino Schurter’s tactical battle for bronze had a surprise beneficiary. David Valero Serrano caught, then surged past the chasers, earning a bronze medal for Spain.