Posted by Editoress on 07/27/21
Jolanda Neff led a Swiss sweep of the podium in the women's mountain bike race, a historic event that has not taken place in any cycling event in the modern Olympics - you have to go back 1904, when American men accomplished the feat on the track, in events that were discontinued after 1908. Sina Frei and Linda Indergand completed the Swiss podium. With Mathias Flueckiger's silver in the men's race, Switzerland took four of a possible six medals in mountain biking.
Podium L to r: Sina Frei , Jolanda Neff, Linda Indergand
Catharine Pendrel, in her fourth Olympic race, was the top Canadian, finishing 18th and 8:01 behind Neff. Canada's other entrant, Haley Smith, was 29th, one lap down. Pendrel was in the low 20s after the start loop, with Smith just behind her. Smith then dropped to 30th, while Pendrel continued to sit just outside the top-20 until the second lap, when she began to move up. She spent most of the rest of the race swapping positions in the high teens with Janika Loiv (Estonia) and Ronja Eibl (Germany), eventually beating Eibl but finishing behind Loiv.
"My race was good, it was really steady," said Pendrel. "I wish I had made some different line choices on the first lap because I got too far back. But, I was able to pick off a position a lap, and I rode where my form is, as I saw at the World Cups. I hoped for a little magic today, but I rode where I am, so I have to be proud with that. I don't think anyone is here just to have fun, we're here to perform, but certainly I think I had a lot less pressure on me then some of the other girls. Typically, I come into an Olympics having won a World Cup, so I knew that this was going to be a different show and I just had to try to do my best and find something special on the day. I didn't feel like I found that extra energy today, but that's just the way that racing can go."
"It was really special [to race her fourth Olympics]. I have a lot of really good memories with the women here and it's really nice to race them one more time and to have experienced these Olympics. It was a pretty chaotic morning coming here and knowing that the course had changed; we hadn't even seen some of it before we were racing it."
Typhoon Nepartak deposited heavy rain on the bone dry course overnight, leading to a one lap shortening of the race (to five from six, plus the start loop) and some hasty changes to the course. A rock garden was rerouted and a ramp installed on the drop that Mathieu van der Poel crashed over the day before. The circuit length dropped to 3.85 kilometres from 4.1 kilometres.
France's Loana Lecomte came into the race as the overwhelming favourite, unbeaten for the season on the World Cup circuit coming into the Games. Other favourites - based on the World Cup - included defending Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds (Sweden), world champion Pauline Ferrand Prevot (France) and Rebecca McConnell (Australia). They would all falter in the conditions, with Lecomte finishing sixth, Ferrand Prevot tenth, Rissveds 14th (after suffering a flat tire) and McConnell 28th.
Neff was not on the potential medalist list because she seemed to still be recovering from a serious crash in late 2019, when she ruptured her spleen and suffered a collapsed lung. As she began to show signs of her previous form this season, she then broke her hand at the final round of the World Cup leading into the Games, only six weeks ago.
However, while the newly muddy conditions seemed to put everyone else in difficulty, Neff shone. Well known for her exceptional technical skills, Neff rarely put a foot wrong; while others slipped, crashed and had to run sections, Neff rode with aplomb.
Neff agreed that her technical skills made the difference, "Someone said to me that whoever wins this race is going to be a worthy champion because you're going to have to know how to ride your mountain bike - you need skills, you need everything. I'm just so incredibly happy to win on this track on this day."
The start of the race looked familiar, with Lecomte in the lead, and Ferrand Prevot and Rissveds not far behind at the end of the start loop. However, it quickly changed as the riders hit the first lap; Neff moved to the front and only Ferrand Prevot could follow her. Then, coming into a short fast descent followed by a cobbled uphill, Ferrand Prevot crashed while Neff floated. If a rider hit the climb right they could roll over the top with their momentum - Neff did this and Ferrand Prevot came to a stop just before the top and fell sideways into the tape, ending her chances for gold.
Evie Richards (Great Britain) moved into second with the other two Swiss riders, followed by Lecomte. But Neff was clear and wouldn't be seen again - 19 seconds in front at the end of Lap 1, she would finish over a minute ahead of second place.
Ferrand Prevot came back to the two Swiss chasers on the second lap and looked to be dropping them as the race entered the third lap, however, she then faded dramatically on the main Wasabi climb, falling to seventh behind a chase group of Lecomte, Richards and Anne Tauber (Netherlands), who were 45 seconds behind Frei and Indergand, and nearly two minutes behind Neff.
Further back, the 19 year old newcomer from Hungary, Kata Blanka Vas, was having a remarkable ride up through the field from starting on the last row. A silver medalist at last year's Under-23 mountain bike world championships, Blanka Vas also has silver and bronze medals in the U23 cyclo-cross world championships, and just signed with the SD Worx UCI WorldTeam on the road. She would eventually finish fourth and, if the race had been a lap longer, might have been in the medals.
Sina Frei leading Linda Indergand
By Lap 4, the Swiss looked to be pretty much in control of the medals, with the only unknown being whether Frei or Indergand would take silver. Frei was climbing stronger, but Indergand kept coming back on the flatter sections. Unfortunately for her, the final 500 metres included a steep climb to the finishing straight and she was not able to stay with her compatriot.
All three Swiss riders hugged at the finish line, stunned by the magnitude of their accomplishment.
|Return to Canadian Cyclist homepage | Back to Top