Cycling: Teams reinvent the wheel in Nanjing
All the cycling events at the Nanjing 2014 Youth Olympic Games took the form of team competitions. The men’s and women’s events featured two athletes per team, while the mixed relay saw teams of four competing in a mash-up of mountain bike, BMX and road disciplines. The three gold medals on offer were shared between Colombia, Italy and Czech Republic
Staged over five days, the men’s and women’s team events comprised a mountain bike cross-country eliminator, a road time trial, a BMX leg and a cross-country Olympic mountain bike race, before concluding with a mass-start road race.
Both competitors in each team were required to start the road race, while each team member also had to start in two of the other four events, though only one of them could start in each event. Points were allocated to the competitors based on their ranking in each race, with the team amassing the highest number of points after the five events being declared the winner.
The four-leg mixed-team relay, which involved cross-country mountain bike races and road races for both men and women, was another YOG first and served up just as much excitement.
Italians win by a wheel
After five gruelling events, the women’s team competition was decided in a thrilling sprint finish. Italy’s Sofia Beggin finished third by a wheel length from her Czech and Danish rivals to score 65 points for her team and secure the gold medal with a total score of 248.
The Czech Republic finished runners-up with 230 points, while Denmark took bronze with 225.
It was only when the Youth Information Service gave them the happy news that Beggin and her team-mate Chiara Teocchi realised they would be topping the podium.
“We can’t believe it, we are so happy,” said a jubilant Teocchi. “Our team is strong in a lot of different areas so we cover for each other. She [Beggin] is a road woman and I’m more of a mountain biker.
“Sofia is a very good sprinter, so she did just enough today to get the win. It is a very tough event and the course today was extremely hard. But we kept working together and encouraging each other,” she added.
“Sofia was brilliant and we are really proud of each other. Italian cycling is on a high at the moment, with Vincenzo Nibali winning the Tour de France.”
Having led the event after four races, the Danes fell just short in the bunch sprint, much to the chagrin of Pernille Mathiesen, who came in ninth.
“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “Today was so hard, a really hard course and so hot. But we tried our best. We lost it right at the end.”
Colombia hold off European surge
Colombia saw off the challenges of Denmark and the Netherlands to take the men’s gold and ensure that the YOG title would be returning to South America.
John Anderson Rodriguez Salazar was the first Colombian across the line in the road race, taking his team’s overall score to 273 points, 16 clear of second-placed Denmark, with the Dutch finishing a point further back in third.
“I’m really happy,” said Rodriguez Salazar. “The course looked easy yesterday when we tried it, but in the race the level was really high. But we worked really hard for this.”
“I hope the result will open the door – maybe next year a European team will take me on. Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran [two Colombian cyclists who ride professionally in Europe] are a big inspiration. I want to be like them and maybe go beyond them.”
It was a tough day in the saddle for all the riders, as Denmark’s Mikkel Honore confirmed: “It was unbelievably hard and hot. But it is great to win a silver medal. I won the time trial event, so I’m happy that I did enough to help get us on the podium. Nanjing has been a great experience.”
Meanwhile, bronze medallist Wiebe Scholten heaped praise on team-mate Niek Kimmann for helping the Dutch secure third spot on the podium: “Niek is a BMX rider, but he managed to do two laps of the course with the peloton, which is an amazing achievement.”
Czechs cook up winning blend in new event
Having set the tone by pitting mountain bikers against road racers and giving time trialists the chance to showcase their BMX skills, the men’s and women’s events made way for the equally experimental mixed-team relay.
The teams of two men and two women tackled the mountain bike course first, before passing the baton to the road specialists, who fought it out for the medals.
In conditions made even more challenging by driving rain, Czech Republic’s Nikola Noskova pipped Italy’s Sofia Beggin in a photo finish to secure gold for the eastern Europeans, whose team also featured Roman Lehky, Jan Rajchart and Barbora Prudkova. Ukraine completed the top three.
“I’m so very happy, it’s incredible to win gold,” Noskova said after edging out the women’s team gold medallist. “The sprint was very close.”
“Nikka is the best, her sprint was amazing,” said Prudkova of her team-mate Noskova, before voicing her praise for the new format: “This is an exciting and brilliant event.”