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Velo International Mountain Bike Man and Woman of the Year: Nino Schurter, Julie Bresset

Nino Schurter and Julie Bresset are our International MTB man and woman of the Year

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Editor’s note: The January 2013 issue of Velo magazine, which is on newsstands now, is our 25th annual awards issue. Our 2012 Cyclist of the Year was announced on November 29; we’ll be rolling out various other award winners throughout the month of December.

International MTB Man of the Year: Nino Schurter

It’s hard to feel sorry for a rider who wins the world championship, the World Cup overall, and takes a silver medal at the Olympics. But when Swiss rider Nino Schurter broke down in tears a half-hour after narrowly missing gold at the men’s Olympic cross-country race at Hadleigh Farm, England, it became crystal clear how high this champion had set his standards.

Heading into London, Schurter, 26, was the hands-down favorite. He’d won four of seven World Cup events and clinched the series title for the second time in his career. The 2009 world champion and number-one ranked rider in the world, Schurter rode a perfect Olympic race, at the front of the lead group from start to finish, only to watch 2011 world champion Yaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic surge past on the inside of the penultimate chicane in the final 200 meters to win by a bike length.

Despondent, Schurter sat on the ground at the fi nish line, battling emotions that had been mounting for four years, since he took Olympic bronze in Beijing at age 22.

“Even 200 meters from the finish, I thought it was my day,” Schurter said. “I thought I would win. Then, in the second-to-last corner Yarloslav just passed me. It’s hard to lose so close. It was a big target for me to win this gold medal. It was a perfect race and I have to be happy with silver.”

He wasn’t happy with silver, however, and he’ll have to wait another four years to claim the gold medal that, by all rights, he deserves.

After the post-race interviews were over and the fans and press had cleared out, Schurter’s mentor and coach, Swiss legend Thomas Frischknecht consoled his rider and gave him a hug, bringing the silver medalist to tears. It was a tender and touching moment between two champions who had shared a common dream — one they had come agonizingly close to fulfilling, and one they will no doubt attempt to achieve, together, in 2016.

International MTB Woman of the Year: Julie Bresset

Only 23, France’s Julie Bresset may just prove to be the best woman to ever race cross-country. Coming off an incredible 2011 season that saw her take the World Cup overall win, winning three of seven races while still an under-23 rider and never finishing worse than fourth, Bresset stormed her way through the heart of the 2012 season, pulling off the unfathomable Olympic-worlds double.

After a slow start at the season opener in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, where Bresset took fifth behind winner Maja Włoszczowska, the French national champion never finished worse than third at a World Cup, including a win at Nove Mesto na Morave, Czech Republic. She likely would have defended her World Cup series title had she not skipped the two North American events in late June to focus on the Olympics.

In London, Bresset could not be denied. She led the women’s Olympic race from start to finish, never in trouble, powering away from accomplished women 15 years her senior, easily navigating the many man-made technical sections of the Hadleigh Farms course; she soloed across the finish line a full minute ahead of German legend Sabine Spitz, with plenty of time to wave the French flag as Olympic champion.

“I’m very happy. It’s amazing to win today,” Bresset said. “I hoped to win a medal — a gold medal is unbelievable. I started well, I took the front of the race and I managed it well. When I had a gap I told myself: ‘Now, I should go.’ I led until the finish and I’m very content.”

Three weeks later, at the world championship in Austria, Bresset again dominated, this time on a technical course filled with wet, steep, and slippery descents marred with crashes. This time she crossed the line 90 seconds ahead of four-time world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå of Norway, who, like Spitz, had crashed trying to keep pace with the young Frenchwoman.

“It was an amazing race. After the Olympics I had to do lots of traveling with not so much time to train. I was really very concentrated and I won the race in the technical section without taking risks. It’s very difficult for me to realize what has happened.”

Following her world championship, Bresset signed on for another four years of racing in the colors of her trade team, BH SR Suntour Peisey Vallandry. We’d call that an investment in gold.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.