Home Sports Britain’s Pidcock dominates Olympic mountain bike race

Britain’s Pidcock dominates Olympic mountain bike race

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On Monday, IZU, Japan (AP) — Tom Pidcock won the Olympic men’s mountain bike race in the hilly countryside southwest of Tokyo, extending Britain’s dominance from the road and track to the dirt. Leaving reigning champion Nino Schurter and his Swiss teammate Mathias Flueckiger behind on the fourth of seven laps, the 21-year-old multidiscipline prodigy proceeded to dominate the toughest course in Olympic history.

Flueckiger gave chase in vain and was left with a silver medal. David Valero Serrano of Spain won a surprise bronze. Pidcock, who splits time between the road and mountain biking, won the World Cup race at Nove Mesto earlier this year to become an Olympic favorite. But then he was hit by a car and broke his collarbone on a training ride, keeping him off a bike for about a week in June, and some wondered whether he’d have the same legs for the Tokyo Games.

Turns out they were even better. Olympic organizers originally wanted to carve out a mountain bike course at Yumenoshima, a district in Tokyo, on an artificial island built upon landfill waste. But the idea was scrapped for many reasons, including topography, and the site shifted 150 kilometers southwest of the Japanese capital to the heavily forested Shizuoka prefecture.

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There, South African course designer Nick Flores — who also masterminded courses for the 2012 and 2016 Games — found a perfect canvas featuring dramatic elevation changes, gnarly sections of root and rocks, and plenty of problems for riders. As expected, the heat turned out to be one of them.

Despite some light breezes cast ahead of the approaching Typhoon Nepartak, which could make landfall Tuesday and drench the women’s race, the men found a mixture of dirt, gravel, and asphalt baking in the summer sun. They also found fans lining the course. Like the road racers before them, mountain bikers benefited from strict COVID-19 protocols that have barred fans from most Olympic venues do not extend past the Tokyo environs.

Several responded to their warm welcome from the Japanese people by popping wheelies during introductions. The field of 38 riders, much smaller than a typical World Cup race, was trimmed to a selection of 10 on the short opening circuit before the main loops began. Missing the break was Jordan Sarrou, the French world champion.

Another of the favorites, Mathieu van der Poel, crashed hard over a rubble-strewn downhill stretch on the first of the seven technical loops. The Dutch rider, whose Olympic tune-up consisted of a Tour de France stage win and six days in the yellow jersey, was left clutching his ribs at the base of the hill and eventually dropped out of the race.

Schurter went to the front on the second lap and began to hammer out the pace. He was followed by Flueckiger, his countryman who has long ridden in Schurter’s shadow, along with Pidcock and Cooper in a four-man breakaway. They began to trade turns at the front, putting distance between themselves and the field.

Then it was Pidcock who went on the attack. At one point, he unleashed an acceleration so striking that Schurter, one of the greatest mountain bikers in history, nearly had his wheels slip out from under him as he tried to answer it. Schurter slowly drifted backward as Pidcock and Flueckiger made it a two-man race.

Pretty soon, Pidcock was all alone. With his effortless climbing, daredevil descents, and composure belying his 21 years, Pidcock left the world’s best gasping for air behind him. The rider from Leeds, whose prep for Tokyo included a homemade heat chamber in his spare bedroom that kept tripping his electricity, built a 14-second gap on Flueckiger heading into the final 4.1-kilometer lap. The only races left were for silver and bronze. More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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