Mountain Bike: Leading Olympic XCO specialists praise Tokyo 2020 course

Held on Sunday in Izu, Japan, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games cross-country mountain bike test event attracted a large number of riders and saw Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff win the Women’s race and her compatriot Nino Schurter the Men’s.

The Olympic cross-country mountain bike test event was held 150 kilometres south of Tokyo attracted a large field, with 42 women and 47 men taking to the start line. Among them were two-time UCI world champion Pauline Ferrand-Prévot (France), former UCI world champion Jolanda Neff (Switzerland), reigning men’s Olympic champion and eight-time UCI world champion Nino Schurter (Switzerland), and former Olympic champion and UCI world champion Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic).

Neff won the women’s race ahead of Sina Frei (Switzerland) and Anne Terpstra (the Netherlands), while Schurter took the honours in the men’s race from Victor Koretzky (France) and Luca Braidot (Italy).

Laid out in a natural, partially wooded setting, the course (a 4km loop completed five times) features some very steep climbs and challenging off-camber sections dotted with roots and stones. The presence of several different types of surfaces – grass, gravel and track – will make tyre choice crucial. Riders will also have their nerve tested by two rocky sections and the breathtaking Sakura Drop.

Rio 2016 gold medallist Schurter was full of praise for the course: “It’s very demanding, which surprised me. There’s one steep climb after another and they give you no chance to get your breath back. You have to stay with it from start to finish, which is what I did by moving into the lead on the descent on the last lap. I think it will be warmer and not so windy next year. It’ll be a question of making a quick impact because I can’t see a group finish like we had today.

“It’s definitely the toughest course I’ve seen for an Olympics,” said the Swiss rider, who will be competing at his fourth Games in Tokyo.

His compatriot Neff shared those views: “It’s a similar course to the ones for the World Championships and the World Cup, in natural settings with wooded and rocky sections. The obstacles are pretty amazing but you can still negotiate them.

“The Izu course is different to London and Rio, which were mainly on grass. Here they’ve made the most of the natural conditions, while creating a compact site that will keep spectators close to the action.”

Brazil’s Henrique Avancini, who placed fifth in the men’s race, echoed Neff’s words: “I really appreciated the environment surround the track. The fans can easily get around from one place to the next. We got a little taste of their passion for our sport and I can’t wait for the Olympic race.”

Fresh from her third place in the women’s race, Terpstra also expressed her appreciation of the pre-Olympic atmosphere: “My aim was to gather as much information as I could to prepare for next year. I was amazed by the atmosphere. It was a challenge and it felt like we were really at the Games. The organisation was perfect, the fans came out to see us, and not everyone gets to ride on a course that looks out on to Mount Fuji.”

“This is a very different course to previous Games, and the athletes were a bit surprised by what they came across,” said Simon Burney, the head of off-road racing at the UCI. “Following two days of training and Sunday’s test event, the track has won all the rider over and it will test their technical and physical skills. Izu has set a new standard for the design and construction of the Olympic cross-country course at the Games.”