Preview: Men’s Olympic Mountain bike race 2016
The battle for gold
Because they are only being held once every four years the Olympic Games always are a, if not the, highlight of an athlete’s season. It is, therefore, time to preview this race. Who are the ones battling for the Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro on the 20th and 21st of August?
The Olympic Mountainbike Race
Mountain biking became an Olympic sport in 1996. Since then, the list of male winners consists of Bart Brentjes (the Netherlands), Miguel Martinez (France), Julien Absalon (France) and Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) and the list of female winners consists of Paola Pezzo (Italy), Gunn-Rita Dale Flesjå (Norway), Sabine Spitz (Germany) and Julie Brasset (France).
The parcours in Rio appears to be very technical including quite some climbs and downhills. The Olympic test event in October 2015, where many top mountainbikers took the start, was won by Nino Schurter (Switzerland) who beat Maxime Marotte (France) in a sprint-a-deux. The women test event was won by Eva Lechner (Italy) who finished solo before Maja Wlozczowska (Poland) and Jenny Rissveds (Sweden). The Olympic race will consist of a mass start where the start order of the race will be determined by the place of the riders on the UCI ranking.
Favorites for Rio 2016
The men will race seven laps on the Olympic course, which is the same as the one of the women’s race. Naturally the big favourites include Nino Schurter and Julien Absalon who have been dominating most of the races held this year. Absalon will retire after the Rio Olympics and will therefore certainly be looking to end his career with a third Olympic gold medal. Absalon is leaving nothing to a chance and has therefore decided to recreate the Olympic mountainbike parcours in southern France. It was ready in March 2016 and Absalon (and perhaps the French team as well) will therefore surely have had some good preparation for the Olympic race.
As said before, Absalon and Schurter are the big favourites for Rio2016. But there are some other riders who should be taken into account aswell. Here we can think of 2012 Olympic champion and silver medallist in the World Championships this year, Jaroslav Kulhavy and Frenchman Maxime Marotte, the current world number three and silver medallist at the test event. Home favourite and current world number 22 Henrique Avancini will be looking to surprise. Italian Marco Fontana who won bronze at the London 2012 Games and the 2014 World Championships is another rider that should not be forgotten. These riders are all relatively old, with Avancini being the youngest aged 27. MTB therefore seems a discipline that requires quite some experience. It will therefore be also very interesting to see what the young French talent Victor Koretzsky can do, only 22 years of age he is by far the best performing young rider in the elite circuit.
The fact that France and Switzerland are dominating the current World Top 10 will make sure that these two countries will certainly field the best teams but other riders will certainly look for ways to break through the dominance of these aforementioned countries.
Many different opinions still exist about the remarkable choice of the Slovak cycling federation to let World Road Race champion Peter Sagan race in the MTB race, while mountainbiker Martin Haring is competing in the Road Race as an alternative to the MTB. Michal Lami, the current world number 45 is being left out.
Thomas Frischknecht, the 1996 World Champion was not impressed by the decision contacted by Cyclingtips he said that “Peter Sagan has about the same chances of becoming Olympic mountain bike champion as if Nino [Schurter red.] would race the road event and go for gold. Both can show a very respectable performance in their non-specialty discipline, but both of them would not walk away with a medal. Sagan is attracting a lot of attention to the mountain-bike race, which is kind of cool — not so cool is the fact that Lami, who deserves to represent Slovakia at Olympics, is left back in the dust.”
Both Absalon and Schurter agree with Frischknecht when it comes to the chances of Sagan to compete for the medals stating a lack of race rhythm and experience. But both are happy to see Sagan take the start because it will bring a lot of extra attention to the MTB race and they are curious to see what he can achieve.
On 21 August the men’s race will be held. For a preview on the women’s Olympic race, click here.
A preview to the Olympic mountainbike race written by Tet Pennings and Sjors Beukeboom