Monday night’s women’s cross-country mountain bike race is one of the most highly-anticipated cycling events in this year’s Olympic Games.
Multiple storylines crisscross the sport like a network of sinewy singletrack.
Will French phenom Loana Lecomte continue her winning streak? Can 2016 Olympic champion Jenny Rissveds hold onto the gold? After her 2018 world championship and 2019 overall World Cup wins, is Kate Courtney due for another big victory? Or, as we saw in the women’s road race on Sunday, will the Olympic win go to someone else entirely?
The women’s cross-country course is the same insanely technical track that saw Mathieu van der Poel somersault over his bike on Sunday, with the women racing one lap less than the men. The ascents and descents are steep and rocky and will favor a strong technical rider who can recover from the efforts quickly.
The weather in Izu could also play a factor in the women’s race; a steady rain has been falling all night on Monday, and humidity is high. Furthermore, a tropical storm nearing Japan’s northeastern coast could bring more heavy rain.
38 women will be competing for gold on Monday, in a field nearly one-third the size of a typical World Cup race. The United States and Switzerland were the only nations to receive three qualifying slots, with Courtney, Haley Batten, and Erin Huck representing Team USA, and Jolanda Neff, Sina Frei, and Linda Indergand donning the Swiss cross.
All of the women from the Olympic podium of the 2016 Rio games will be racing in Tokyo, with Rissveds, in particular, showing excellent form. The Swede had excellent results at both the Leogang and Les Gets World Cup races this year, clinching silver in both XCO races and a bronze at the Les Gets short track race.
And don’t count out Rio’s silver and bronze medalists Maja Włoszczowska of Poland and Catharine Pendrel of Canada in Tokyo; both women have been racing their way into form this season, with Pendrel’s results particularly inspiring after the birth of her daughter in late January.
Nevertheless, the eyes of the world will likely be on las femmes de la France in Tokyo this year. World champ Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and current superstar and World Cup leader Loana Lecomte both represent an excellent chance at gold.
Ferrand-Prévot comes to Tokyo as a veteran Olympian, although this is only her first time competing in the mountain bike race. In 2012, the 29-year old was the youngest competitor in the women’s road race. At Rio in 2016, she intended to ride on both the rail and the road; however, she abandoned the MTB race due to the effects of an injury she sustained earlier in the year.
The world champ has had a strong 2021 so far, with short track World Cup wins in Albstadt and Les Gets, but she has yet to stand on the top step of the podium in a cross-country race; that position has belonged solely to Lecomte.
The 21-year old’s preferred way of winning includes attacking off-the-bat and maintaining her lead until the race ends. Thus far, no one has finished within 50 seconds of her. Lecomte claws through mud, climbs up steep ascents, and descends rocky and rooty sections with equal parts technical acumen and cool confidence. It’s a winning combination, and we all want to know — will she do what she’s been doing all year in Tokyo?
The red-white-and-blue of Team USA will also be on full display with two strong contenders in Kate Courtney and Haley Batten. Courtney has made no secret that the Tokyo Olympics have been a goal for a long time. Although her 2021 season has been characterized by ups and downs, the 25-year old is as professional as it gets, with an iron will and a decade of mountain bike racing under her belt.
Batten earned her spot on Team USA handily earlier this summer with a second-place finish at Nove Mesto. In her first season as an elite, the 22-year old has shown she is positioned perfectly to compete with the world’s best; not only does she have excellent technical skills, Batten is also coached by three-time Olympian Kristin Armstrong.
Two other riders to watch include Evie Richards of Great Britain and Australian Rebecca McConnell, both of whom have posted impressive results this year.
Tokyo 2021 women’s Olympic cross-country mountain bike race start list
Sofia Gomez Villafane
Pauline Ferrand Prevot
Kata Blanka Vas
Daniela Campuzano Chavez Peon
Russian Olympic Committee
Rocio Del Alba Garcia Martinez