Jolanda Neff stormed to a dominant victory in the Olympics mountain bike event in Izu, leading home a clean sweep of the podium by the Swiss team.
Sina Frei and Linda Indergand rounded out the podium for Switzerland, crossing the line more than a minute behind Neff.
Neff, who didn’t put a foot wrong once during the race, went clear midway through the opening lap. Her commanding win was made even more impressive by the fact that she broke her hand at the Leogang World Cup at the start of June.
“I don’t think I’ve realized it yet, but I must say so far I feel good and thought it would hurt a lot more,” Neff said after the race.
“I knew it was going to be a super tough and really hard race. It’s got really steep climbs and really tough conditions and this morning we had a complete change of conditions again (with heavy rain). We had one hour of training to get used to the new conditions and I think that’s what made the difference for the Swiss team.
“The whole story for me was pretty crazy. I had my last big win in 2018 at the World Cup final in La Bresse (France) and at the test event here in 2019 and that was in fact the last time I did any bike race with spectators. I broke my hand six weeks ago, I didn’t ride off-road for the past six weeks, I only got back on the bike for the first time here and I can’t say how much it means to me.”
Pre-race favorites, the French pairing of Pauline Ferrand-Prévot and Loana Lecomte endured a difficult day of crashes and mechanical issues.
Meanwhile, USA’s Kate Courtney, Haley Batten, and Erin Huck had challenging races after a poor start, and Batten was the best-placed finisher in ninth place.
After a dry course for the men’s race Monday, the women had to contend with some slippery conditions after overnight rain.
Several changes were made to the course ahead of the race due to the conditions, including replacing the ramp at the Sakura Drop where Mathieu van der Poel crashed in dramatic fashion in the men’s event.
The start was messy with several big names, including Ferrand-Prévot, losing position on the starting loop. Her compatriot Lecomte had a far better start, charging to the front for the first of many climbs with Neff on her wheel.
Fortunes switched for the French riders heading into the main circuit with Ferrand-Prévot assuming the position at the front of the race as Lecomte, who has dominated the World Cup competition this year, dropped back.
The race looked set for a battle between Neff and Ferrand-Prévot, but the cross-country world champion had an unusual crash as they ascended a rock climb.
Ferrand-Prévot took the inside line but misjudged her pace and went off into the grass at the side of the course. She could only watch as her bike slipped back down the rocks and she would have to retrieve it before going back up on foot.
By the time Ferrand-Prévot was back on her way, she had lost several positions and Neff was long gone.
Neff didn’t look back after that and put on a masterclass of bike handling as she negotiated her way around the technical course. As the battle for places raged on behind her, Neff rode a perfect race and continued to extend her lead on her rivals.
Bad day for the French
Ferrand-Prévot was initially able to battle back to link up with Frei and Indergand, attacking them on the third lap. However, the Swiss were able to bring her back with relative ease and she soon found herself dropped from the medal position.
Another slip compounded a frustrating day for Ferrand-Prévot, while a dropped chain gave Lecomte yet more chasing to do. It was a rare disappointing performance for the women in blue, white, and red.
Meanwhile, rising star Kata Blanka Vas put in a very strong performance to finish the best of the non-Swiss riders in fourth place. The 19-year-old Hungarian ground her way through the pack as the race progressed to score a great result for her debut Olympic Games.
The USA team of Huck, Batten, and Courtney never really factored into the race after a difficult start to the race. Batten put in a strong final couple of laps to salvage something from the event and finish ninth, just ahead of Ferrand-Prévot.
Olympic women’s mountain bike race
- Jolanda Neff (Switzerland) 1:15:46
- Sina Frei (Switzerland) +1:11
- Linda Indergand (Switzerland) +1:19
- Kata Blanka Vas (Hungary) +2:09
- Anne Terpstra (Netherlands) +2:35
- Loana Lecomte (France) +2:57
- Evie Richards (Great Britain) +3:23
- Yana Belomoina (Ukraine) +3:54
- Hayley Batten (United States) +4:27
- Pauline Ferrand Prevot (France) +4:32
- Anne Tauber (Netherlands) +4:32
- Malene Degn (Denmark) +4:48
- Caroline Bohe (Denmark) +5:11
- Jenny Rissveds (Sweden) +5:42
- Kate Courtney (United States) +6:33
- Daniela Campuzano Chavez Peon (Mexico) +7:04
- Janika Loiv (Estonia) +7:31
- Catharine Pendrel (Canada) +8:01
- Ronja Eibl (Germany) +8:13
- Maja Wloszczowska (Poland) +8:39
- Tanja Zaklj (Slovenia)
- Jitka Cabelicka (Czech Republic) +9:14
- Sofia Gomez Villafane (Argentina) +9:27
- Candice Lill (South Africa) +10:34
- Eva Lechner (Italy) +10:40
- Rocio del Alba Garcia Martinez (Spain) +10:46
- Raquel Queiros (Portugal) +12:00
- Rebecca McConnell (Australia) +14:43
- Hayley Smith (Canada) -1 lap
- Viktoria Kirsanova (Russian Olympic Committee) -1 lap
- Erin Huck (United States) -1 lap
- Elisabeth Brandau (United States) -1 lap
- Githa Michiels (Belgium) -2 laps
- Bianwa Yao (China) -2 laps
- Jaqueline Mourao (Brazil) -2 laps
- Michelle Vorster (Namibia) -3 laps
- Miho Imai (Japan) -3 laps
Laura Stigger (Austria) DNF