The British rider blasted from fourth row of the grid and attacked multiple times to drop Swiss pair Mathias Flueckiger and defending champion Nino Schurter in the middle of the race and ride solo to gold, less than two months after fracturing his collarbone.
“It was pretty crazy that I could become an Olympian – I was just trying to tell myself before the race that it’s special just that I’m here,” Pidcock said shortly afterward.
The 21-year-old’s injury saw him lose training and racing time that put the slightest of glints in his typically unwavering confidence.
“(It’s been) really hard. I haven’t done a good race since,” he said about coming back from injury.
“I’ve trained really hard, I knew I was in great shape but there’s always doubt when I haven’t performed in a race. But once the race started, I knew I was in a good place.”
Flueckiger led the chase behind Pidock’s potent performance to take silver. David Valero (Spain) made a late comeback to win a tight battle for bronze. American Christopher Blevins finished 14th.
Pre-race favorite and multi-discipline phenom Mathieu van der Poel crashed heavily in the opening lap and eventually abandoned. He looked to be struggling with injury.
Henrique Alvancini (Brazil) had led the race through the opening laps before Schurter cranked the pressure, with teammate Flueckiger and Anton Cooper (New Zealand) leading the chase.
Pidcock blasted from fourth row of the grid and soon slotted into the top-10. The 21-year-old Brit was relentless through the opening laps, fighting his way into a tightly-knit front group.
Pidcock attacked repeatedly to pressure a group of four that formed at the front of the race. His first move neatly swung him past both Schurter and Flueckiger to put him at the front of the race.
Once Pidcock had a clear trail in front of him he didn’t back off.
The lightweight climber twice attacked Cooper and the Swiss pair on the course’s multiple ascents through the third and fourth lap. The relentless pace ground away at Schurter and Cooper, who slid off the pace and lost around 15 seconds to the charging Brit and the defiant Flueckiger.
Flueckiger clung on to Pidcock through the middle of the race but lost seconds with every repeat of the tough Izu circuit. The Swiss man’s race was further hampered when he lost traction on a dusty climb and had to put a foot down just as he was rallying to chase through lap five.
Pidcock sailed through the final laps, looking in utter control of his bike. His smooth but aggressive ride saw the gap to Flueckiger steadily increase as he charged his way to gold.
Valero wins battle for bronze
Victor Koretzky (France) pulled his way back to Cooper and Schurter after the two race leaders had gone clear, setting up a tightly coiled race for the podium. The trio looked inseparable before David Valero (Spain) pulled his way back into contention.
Ondrej Cink (Czech Republic) had latched on to the chase group and started to pressure only to puncture, his race over.
Valero had the final kick to pull away from the bunch in the final half-lap to take the bronze medal.
Van der Poel bites the dust
Van der Poel went over the front of his bike over a steep drop-off on the first lap.
The Dutchman was in the top 10 positions after clawing through the pack from the second row of the grid, and misjudged his pop off of a rock jump before going head over shoulders and into a bush.
Van der Poel took a long time to regather and looked in serious pain before returning to the race, one minute down and covered in dirt. He battled through until the fifth lap before withdrawing. He looked to be nursing an injury as he collapsed on the ground in disappointment.
The elite women’s race Tuesday on the same course.
Olympic men’s mountain bike race
- Tom Pidcock (Great Britain), 1:25:14
- Mathias Flueckiger (Switzerland), at 0:20
- David Valero (Spain), at 0:34
- Nino Schurter (Switzerland), at 0:42
- Victor Koretzky (France), at 0:46
- Anton Cooper (New Zealand), at 0:46
- Vlad Dascalu (Romania), at 0:49
- Alan Hatherly (South Africa), at 1:19
- Jordan Sarrou (France), at 1:36
- Milan Vader (The Netherlands), at 2:07
- Anton Sintsov (Russia), at 2:27
- Filippo Colombo (Switzerland), at 2:50
- Henrique Avancini (Brazil), at 2:55
- Christopher Blevins (USA), at 2:59
- Jofre Cullell (Spain), at 3:02
- Martin Vidaurre (Chile), at 3:19
- 17. Maximilian Foidl (Austria), at 3:31
- Jens Schuermans (Belgium), at 3:53
- Barlomiej Wawak (Poland), at 3:56
- Gerhard Kerschbaumer (Italy), at 4:34