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Sweden’s Jenny Rissveds finished well ahead of her closest challengers Maja Wloszczowska of Poland and Canada’s Catharine Pendrel, who took silver and bronze respectively, in the women’s mountain bike cross-country competition at Rio’s Deodoro course on 20 August 2016.
As the riders began the sixth and final lap of the 4.85km Deodoro circuit, Rissveds was neck-and-neck with Wloszczowska. However, the Swede then launched a breakaway, swiftly opening up a gap as she navigated her way skilfully over the obstacle-ridden course. By the time she crossed the finish line she had established a 37-second lead over the Pole.
“At the start, I just focused on staying zen, on trying to enjoy myself and just pedalling,” said Rissveds, the reigning world U23 champion. “This is obviously the greatest success of my career. I can’t get over it. At one point, I said to myself: if I keep my cool, I can finish second at the very least. But then I got a grip and said to myself: I’ve got to go for gold. And that’s what I did.”
For the 32-year-old Wloszczowska, who also took silver at Beijing 2008, a second Olympic podium finish was cause for joy. “Before the race, I worked out there were 13 of us who were capable of winning,” she said. “So I’m really delighted to be on the podium. It was a really tough race, but I felt in good shape right from the start. I expected Jenny and Jolanda Neff to be very strong. From the start I felt I was in control, but then Jenny decided to attack and I really struggled.”
Pendrel battled through various technical problems in order to grab the third spot on the podium. I’m on cloud nine,” said the French rider. “Right at the start I had an accident, and then I struggled to get clear of some of the other riders, and after that I had a mechanical problem during the first lap,” she explained. “Everything seemed to be going wrong. But I carried on fighting and in the end it paid off. I’m really happy that everything worked out well in the end.”
Remarkably the women’s competition at Rio 2016 featured no less than seven world champions. At 22, Rissveds, who gave Sweden its second gold medal of the Games after swimmer Sarah Sjöström won the 100m butterfly, was the youngest.
As for the two favourites, Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff, the overall World Cup winner in 2014 and 2015 and European champion in 2016 could only finish sixth, while France’s Pauline Ferrand-Prévot, the 2015 world champion, was forced to withdraw during the third lap.
Nino Schurter added the Olympic men’s mountain bike crown to his world title in Rio. After winning a silver at London 2012 and bronze four years earlier, the Swiss produced a consummate display to see off the challenge of reigning Olympic champion Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic. Spain’s Carlos Coloma took the bronze.
Schurter and Kulhavy were neck and neck for much of the final, but the Swiss left his rival for dust on the sixth and final lap. Coloma and Frenchman Maxime Marotte also remained in the frame until the latter stages. But in the end Schurter was able to savour his victory well before crossing the line, and he finished with a 50-second advantage over his Czech rival.
Marotte and Coloma then produced an exciting tussle for bronze, with the Spaniard just edging the Frenchman off the podium, as he finished one minute and 23 seconds behind Schurter. For the Swiss rider, a five-time world champion (2009, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2016), it was his third time on an Olympic podium, following his third place at Beijing 2008 and his silver at London 2012.
Meanwhile Peter Sagan, the 2015 world road race champion and 2016 green jersey winner in the Tour de France, endured a torrid time of it off road. The Slovak suffered a puncture after quarter of an hour, and ended up being lapped. Two-time Olympic champion Julien Absalon (FRA), who won gold in Athens and Beijing, could only finish eighth this time around. It was the first time since Atlanta 1996, when mountain biking was added to the Olympic programme, that the Frenchman had not managed to make it onto the podium.
Schurter, who lost out to Kuhlavy four years earlier in London, was delighted to finally reach the top rung of the podium. “It’s a dream come true, I can’t believe it,” said the Swiss. “I’ve worked for four years for this gold medal. I’m so pleased that things worked out so well this time. Looking back, I think I needed to win that silver in London in order to come back stronger here. Things turned out perfectly. Bronze in Beijing, silver in London and now gold in Rio. It’s perfect!”
Meanwhile, silver medallist Kulhavy felt he couldn’t have given more: “It was a very difficult race and I was pushed to the limit,” admitted the Czech. “It was incredibly hard. It was raining and the rocks were slippy which that made the descents a lot more complicated. It was very different from the London 2012 course. I’m very happy that I was able to go head to head with Nino again. I’m very pleased for both of us. Nino was the strongest this year, and I’m happy to see him win the gold.”
Spaniard Coloma was delighted with his bronze medal. “I always knew it was going to be especially difficult given the level of the other riders who were competing,” he reflected. “It’s a dream come true for me. I knew what I was capable of doing, and I’m proud not just for myself, but for the whole of Spain.”