Jolanda Neff led a Swiss podium sweep in the women’s mountain bike race, a historic feat that has not happened in any cycling event in the modern Olympics.
You have to go back to 1904 for the last sweep, when American men made it to the track in events that were halted after 1908, but Sina Frei and Linda Indergand completed the all-Swiss podium in Tokyo on Tuesday.
With Mathias Flueckiger’s silver medal in men the day before, Switzerland won four of the six possible medals in mountain biking.
Typhoon Nepartak deposited heavy rain on the dry course overnight, resulting in a shortening of one lap of the race (to five to six, plus the start loop) and some hasty changes to the course.
A rockery was diverted and a ramp installed on the wall on which Mathieu van der Poel crashed the day before. The length of the circuit has been reduced from 4.1 km to 3.85 km.
France’s Loana Lecomte entered the race as a big favorite, unbeaten for the season on the World Cup circuit ahead of the Games. Other favorites – 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 under the conditions, Lecomte finishing sixth, Ferrand Prevot 10th, Rissveds 14th (after having a puncture) and McConnell 28th.
Neff was not on the list of potential medalists as she still appeared to be recovering from a serious accident in late 2019, when she ruptured her spleen and suffered lung collapse. As she started to show signs of her previous form this season, she then broke her hand in the final pre-Games World Cup round just six weeks ago.
However, as the newly muddy conditions seemed to put everyone in trouble, Neff shone. Well known for her exceptional technical skills, Neff is rarely wrong. Where others slipped, crashed and had to run, Neff rode with aplomb.
“Someone told me whoever wins this race will be a worthy champion because you’re going to have to know how to ride a mountain bike – you need skills, you need everything,” said Neff. “I am incredibly happy to win at this track that day.”
The start of the race seemed familiar, with Lecomte in the lead, and Ferrand Prevot and Rissveds not far behind at the end of the starting loop. However, that quickly changed when the riders reached the first lap; Neff takes the lead and only Ferrand Prévot can follow her. Then, entering a short, rapid descent followed by a paved climb, Ferrand Prevot crashed while Neff floated.
If a runner made the right climb he could roll over the summit with his momentum – Neff did and Ferrand Prevot stopped just before the summit and fell sideways in the strip, ending his chances of winning gold.
Evie Richards (Great Britain) finished second with the two other Swiss riders, followed by Lecomte. But Neff was clear and would not be seen again. With 19 seconds ahead at the end of the first lap, she would finish with more than a minute ahead of second place.
Ferrand Prevot caught up with the two Swiss pursuers in the second lap and seemed to let them down as the race entered the third lap. However, she then collapsed dramatically on the main climb of Wasabi, falling to seventh behind a chase group consisting of Lecomte, Richards and Anne Tauber (Netherlands), who were 45 seconds behind Frei and Indergand, and nearly two minutes behind Neff.
Further on, 19-year-old Hungarian newcomer Kata Blanka Vas made a remarkable comeback in the field starting from the last row. A silver medalist at the U23 World Mountain Bike Championships last year, Blanka Vas also won silver and bronze medals at the U23 Cyclocross World Championships and comes to sign with SD Worx UCI WorldTeam on the road. She would eventually finish fourth and, had the race lasted a longer lap, she might have been in the medals.
In the fourth round, the Swiss seemed to have roughly control of the medals, the only unknown being whether Frei or Indergand would win the silver. Frei climbed harder, but Indergand always came back on the flattest sections. Unfortunately for her, the last 500 meters included a steep climb to the finish straight and she couldn’t stay with her compatriot.
The three Swiss riders embraced at the finish line, stunned by the magnitude of their accomplishment.
|#||Rider’s name (country) Team||Results|
|1||Jolanda Neff (Switzerland)||1:15:46|
|2||Sina Frei (Switzerland)||0:01:11|
|3||Linda Indergand (Switzerland)||0:01:19|
|4||Kata Blanka Vas (Hun)||0:02:09|
|5||Anne Terpstra (Ned)||0:02:35|
|6||Loana Lecomte (Fra)||0:02:57|
|7||Evie Richards (GBr)||0:03:23|
|8||Yana Belomoina (United Kingdom)||0:03:54|
|9||Haley Batten (United States)||0:04:27|
|ten||Pauline Ferrand Prévot (Fra)||0:04:32|
|11||Anne Tauber (Ned)|
|12||Malene Degn (Den)||0:04:48|
|13||Caroline Bohe (Borne)||0:05:11|
|14||Jenny Rissveds (Sweden)||0:05:42|
|15||Kate Courtney (United States)||0:06:33|
|16||Daniela Campuzano Chave Peon (Mexico)||0:07:04|
|17||Janika Loiv (East)||0:07:31|
|18||Catherine Pendrel (Bobbin)||0:08:01|
|19||Ronja Eibl (German)||0:08:13|
|20||Maja Wloszczowska (Poland)||0:08:39|
|21||Tanja Zakelj (Slo)||0:08:52|
|22||Jitka Cabelicka (Czechia)||0:09:14|
|23||Sofia Gomez Villafane (Arg)||0:09:27|
|24||Candice Lill (RSA)||0:10:34|
|25||Eva Lechner (Italy)||0:10:40|
|26||Rocia del Alba Garcia Martinez (Esp)||0:10:46|
|27||Raquel Queiros (Por)||0:12:00|
|28||Rebecca McConnell (Australia)||0:14:43|
|29||Haley Smith (Can)||1 turn|
|30||Viktoria Kirsanova (ROC)||1 turn|
|31||Erin Huck (United States)||1 turn|
|32||Elisabeth Brandau (Germany)||1 turn|
|33||Githa Michiels (Bel)||2 rounds|
|34||Bianwa Yao (Chn)||2 rounds|
|35||Jaqueline Mourao (Bra)||2 rounds|
|36||Michelle Vorster (Nam)||3 rounds|
|37||Miho Imai (Jp)||3 rounds|
|DNF||Laura Stigger (Auto)|