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Tom Pidcock (Great Britain) stormed to the win in the men’s cross-country mountain bike race at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Mathias Flueckiger (Switzerland) took silver with David Valero Serrano (Spain) claiming bronze. The gold medal was Great Britain’s first Olympic win in mountain biking.
The talented all-rounder narrowly avoided a fall by Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands) on the opening lap but looked in control through the race from that point onwards.
He followed the early pace set by Mathias Flueckiger (Switzerland) and Nino Schurter (Switzerland) before putting in his first attack towards the end of the second lap.
That move merely served as a warning of what was to come with the Ineos Grenadiers rider attacking twice more on the uphill section on lap 3.
Schurter was the first rider to slip from Pidcock’s wheel with Flueckiger holding on until lap 4. The Swiss rider was able to hold Pidcock at 6 seconds at the start of lap five and the gap briefly came down to just three seconds. However, when Flueckiger was forced to walk on a tough ascent he quickly lost all of his momentum. That allowed Pidcock to extend his lead to 11 seconds.
From that point on the result almost looked a formality with Pidcock able to comfortably pick his line and even hold back on certain sections. With one lap to go the 21-year-old had a gap of 14 seconds over Flueckiger, while the battle for bronze was between Anton Cooper (New Zealand), David Valero Serrano (Spain), Victor Koretzky (France), and Schurter.
Pidcock eventually crossed the line 20 seconds clear Flueckiger, with Serrano a further 14 seconds back. Former champion, Schurter, was forced to settle for fourth at the finish line.
“Not real, really. It’s pretty crazy that I became an Olympian and I was trying to tell myself at the start of the race it’s special just to be here,” a delighted Pidcock said at the finish.
Pidcock came into the Games having fractured a collarbone earlier this summer when he was hit by a car. The win capped an incredible turnaround.
“Really hard. I haven’t done a good race since. 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. The heat, I mean, obviously I didn’t feel good but everyone just told me no-one will feel good.”
Four days before his 22nd birthday, Pidcock becomes the youngest Olympic mountain bike champion in history, 79 days younger the 2016 women’s champion, Jenny Rissveds of Sweden.
How it unfolded
This race was expected to be a battle between Pidcock, Flueckiger, Schurter and Mathieu van der Poel. The start loop seemed to bear out this expectation, with all four in the top six as they began the first of seven laps of the 4.1-kilometre circuit.
However, it was a disaster for Van der Poel, who over rotated after going off a big rock drop, crashing heavily and sitting at the side of the course, holding his wrist and hip. The Dutch rider slowly got going again at the back of the field over a minute back, and managed to move up to the mid-teens before dropping out.
The race for the medals came down to four riders in the first half of the race – Pidcock, Flueckiger, Schurter and Anton Cooper. Henrique Avancini (Brazil), after briefly challenging on Lap 1, drifted backwards on Lap 2 to eventually finish 13th.
As they started Lap 3 it was down to Schurter, Flueckiger and Pidcock at the front, with Cooper dangling on and off the back of the group; losing ground on the climbs and fighting back on the flat and technical sections. Behind, Victor Koretzky (France) and Ondrej Cink (Czech Republic) were close enough to still be in the medal hunt.
However, on the fourth lap Pidcock began to apply pressure on the steep climbs. Schurter initially went with him, which may have been a mistake, since he soon afterwards faded back to Cooper.
Flueckiger managed to claw his way back up to the Brit, but it would prove to be only temporary, with Pidcock dropping the Swiss rider for good as they started the fifth lap. Behind, Schurter and Cooper had been joined by Koretzky, with Cink also getting into the bronze medal battle.
Pidcock attacked every climb, out of the saddle, stomping on the pedals. Flueckiger was holding him to six seconds, but had a costly mistake in the loose gravel of a switchback on one of the steep climbs, having to get off his bike and run. That proved to be the end of his challenge for gold, as he dropped to 15 seconds down, and from that point on he was riding to preserve his silver.
Behind, as the race entered the penultimate lap, Cink attacked, getting a gap on the rest of the chasers. The Czech rider was looking strong until a rear puncture dashed his hopes and took him out of the race.
He could only sit at the side of the course and watch other riders go by. Meanwhile, Valero Serrano was making a steady climb into medal contention, and joined Schurter, Cooper and Koretzky in the battle for third just before the start of the final lap. He went to the front of the group and dropped the other three in the final half lap to take the bronze.
But the day was Thomas Pidcock’s; a rider who only qualified a spot for his country in the final race of the qualification period and is more known as a road and cyclo-cross rider. He becomes the second Ineos Grenadiers rider to win gold at these Games, after his WorldTour team mate Richard Carapaz (Ecuador) won the men’s road race on Saturday.