The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 men's mountain bike race saw victory go to 21-year-old Tom Pidcock on a testing new course at Izu. It is Great Britain's first Olympic medal in the discipline.
He finished the seven-lap race in 1:25:14, beating Mathias Flückiger (SUI) by 20 seconds, and David Valero Serrano (ESP) by 34 seconds. The 2016 Olympic Champion Nino Schurter battled to fourth; in his fourth Olympic Games the first time he didn’t quite make the podium.
“I’ve trained really hard, I knew I was in great shape but there’s always doubt when I haven’t performed in a race. But once the race started, I knew I was in a good place,” said Pidcock.
Thirty-eight riders – a much smaller field than in UCI World Cups – took to the mass start in dry, hot conditions. Among them only two nations had three riders: Switzerland and Italy, but the field was packed with contenders from around the world and from different riding backgrounds.
The 1.2km start loop saw strong action from Mathieu Van der Poel (NED) on the second row, Tom Pidcock from the fourth row and UCI Word Champion Jordan Sarrou (FRA) who led into the Amagi Pass, its two tight lanes already forcing many riders onto their feet. Milan Vader (NED) led the pack over the bridge for the first time, and onto the tarmac with Victor Koretzky (FRA), Flückiger, Anton Cooper (NZL) and Henrique Avancini (BRA), before the Brazilian set the pace for the first of seven full 3.85km laps of the Izu Mountain Bike Course brilliantly designed by Nick Floros.
A tightly packed field initially saw bottlenecks as many riders dismounted to run sections of the Wasabi climb, cyclo-cross-style, before starting to spread out with wider sections and airtime over drops and features such as the ‘chopsticks’ obstacle. Into the next short steep dusty climb, Koretsky (winner of the first 2021 Mercedes-Benz UCI World Cup round, in Albstadt, Germany) had a small slip and briefly collected Pidcock (winner of the second 2021 UCI World Cup round, in Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic), before Van der Poel took a big tumble jumping downhill off boulders, nosediving and going over the bars. The multidisciplinary rider who recently held the Tour de France’s yellow jersey for six days was left in his orange Netherlands jersey holding his ribs before remounting and continuing 1 minute down. He rode on bravely before retiring on lap 5.
As the leaders completed the first full lap, Schurter hit the front, pulling out a small gap before the leading pack responded and Flückiger assumed an ominous second position. As the carefully controlled crowds hit their Swiss cowbells, the Swiss pair looked strong, shadowed by Cooper, Pidcock, Avancini and Koretzky with Luca Braidot (ITA), Ondrej Cink (CZE) and Alan Hatherly (RSA) also joining the top 10.
On lap 2 Pidcock – days before his 22nd birthday – passed the Swiss pair briefly during feeding in the technical station before Flückiger passed him on the next short climb. After 30 minutes of riding, the first five (Flückiger, Schurter, Pidcock, Cooper and Koretzky) began to pull away, with the Frenchman gradually feeling the pace and slipping back into a chasing group led by Cink.
Pidcock, the 2020 Under-23 UCI World Champion for mountain bike cross-country and 2020 UCI World Champion for E-mountain bike, made an attack just ahead of the boulder drop-off that had claimed Van der Poel earlier in the race. On lap 3 he made another injection of pace into a climb, with seven-time UCI World Champion Schurter in second. By lap 4 the young Yorkshireman pushed the pace again, stretching the lead group, with Flückiger on his wheel and Schurter slipping to fourth, battling with the young New Zealander Cooper.
On lap 5, after almost an hour of racing, Flückiger had closed the gap back to 5 seconds behind Pidcock,but slipped on a climb and finished that lap 11 seconds adrift. From here it was a time trial for the Ineos Grenadiers rider.
Lap 6 saw Cooper and Schurter joined by Cink, riding his third Olympics, and Koretzky for what looked like a fight for third place, but the Czech punctured and crashed in a woods section, apparently upset to miss out in such a way having shown great consistency throughout the UCI World Cup campaign. The battle for bronze was joined by David Valero Serrano (ESP) and Vlad Dascalu (ROM).
Pidcock – who has recently recovered from a broken collarbone after a training crash – and Flückiger – winner of the last two UCI World Cup rounds – rode with some caution on the final lap to take gold and silver medals respectively, and it was Valero Serrano who brought bronze home for Spain.
The mountain bike cross-country action continues with the women’s race at 15:00 JST on Tuesday 27 July.