As we all take a breath and try and get back to our usual bed time routines before the Paralympics get going, the dust is settling on the mountain bike course at Rio. Metaphorically though, as by Sunday’s men’s race there wasn’t much by way of dust…but first things first…Saturday’s women’s race.
The race featured a relatively large number of relatively older women – many riders were over 30, with plenty in their late 30s – unusual perhaps for an event which is less about endurance and more about speed.
Pauline Ferrand Prevot, arguably one of the greatest all round cyclists ever, failed to feature in the race and abandoned in lap three. Linda Indergand went out fast and took the lead, but it turned out to be too fast and she blew up, going backwards through the field to tenth, then hauling back through to finish 8th. Katerina Nash finished 5th, 20 years after she raced in the Olympic debut for mountain biking in Atlanta, making it her 11th Olympic appearance, having also skied in winter games. Nails. Third place was fought over by Canadians Catharine Pendrel and Emily Batty, but 35 year old Catherine Pendrel fought off the younger rider to grab the bronze medal in her third Olympic race. Second place went to Poland’s Maja Włoszczowska, who also won silver in the 2008 Olympics.
The winner however was Sweden’s Jenny Rissveds. At 22 years old, she’s already the world under-23 champion, and brings home Sweden’s first cycling gold for 40 years. Riding a full suspension Scott Spark with 27.5in wheels, she’ll have a few people questioning the popular ‘XC=29er’ school of thought.
For the women’s race the course was dry, and perhaps didn’t appear overly technical. A long slog of a climb soon took its toll though, and on tired legs the rock gardens and steeper sections certainly started to look a lot trickier. Come the men’s race, there’d been overnight rain, so tyre pressures were lowered in search of grip as dust turned to mud.
Much of the media talk had been about Peter Sagan, who went from 50th on the grid to 3rd place so fast that the TV coverage pretty much missed it. Unfortunately we were treated to a glimpse of Lesotho’s Phetetso Monese walking as the race stormed away from him, an early mechanical appearing to scupper all his hopes. Two times gold winner, Julien Absalon started first on the grid, but never featured at the sharp end of the race, which, once Sagan had flatted (line choice perhaps not being as good as his bike handling?), was all about Nino Schurter and Jaroslav Kulhavy. That was until the last lap and a half, when Kulhavy looked to be a little uncomfortable – a stomach problem perhaps? – and Schurter applied the pressure and Kulhavy couldn’t respond. Racing interest then turned to the bronze medal, where Spaniard Carlos Coloma (nice ‘tache!) and Frenchman Maxime Marotte fought tooth and nail, with Coloma finally crossing the line just 10 seconds ahead of Marotte.
Other notable finishers were Colombia’s Jhonnatan Botero, who couldn’t have looked happier with his 5th place finish, and Britain’s Grant Ferguson, who looked shattered as he crossed the line in 17th place. A great result for the Scot who only gained a place at the last minute through some complicated appeals shenanigans. You can’t ask more of someone than to try their best, and if they’re slightly grey and too tired to raise their arms of the grips come the end of the race you can reasonably assume they’ve tried pretty hard. Let’s hope we see more of Grant in Tokyo in four years time, where we imagine he’ll be up against Denmark’s Simon Andreassen – the last rider to finish on the winner’s lap, and at 18 the youngest rider in the race. It was good to see a mention from British Cycling, after its apparent lack of interest in getting a rider to the games in the first place.
The Singletrack Forum was full of pre-race debate, with some spot-on predictions as is often the case.
Olympic commercial rules mean there’s not a lot of opportunity for brands to shout about the wins their riders may have, but it won’t have escaped the notice of many that both winners were riding Scott Sports bikes and ride for the Scott Odlo MTB Racing Team. Has (Olympian himself) Nick Craig been giving them tips? Or maybe it’s Nino’s crazy training regime that’s paid off?