HADLEIGH FARM, United Kingdom (VN) — World champion Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic won the men’s Olympic mountain bike gold after an epic seven-lap race here on Sunday.
Swiss Nino Schurter finished a close second for silver while Italian Marco Fontana finished third to take the bronze.
Todd Wells was the top American in 10th with Sam Schultz 15th.
“It was really hard, because we went full gas the whole time,” said Kulhavy. “I was amazingly strong, I gave everything for this race.”
Kulhavy and Schurter were among a leading group of riders who, as early as the first lap, left many of their rivals trailing with a ferocious pace over the technical Hadleigh Farm site.
Kulhavy, Schurter and Fontana turned the screw in the final few laps and after a brief attack by the Italian on the last lap, the Czech and Swiss pulled away.
The two attacked each other several times on the way up the final climb and it was the Swiss who crested first, going into the descent that led to the final, small climb before the finish line.
But Kulhavy took the inside line on the second to last chicane and pulled ahead of Schurter on the way around the Olympic rings on the grass to leave the Swiss in his wake by a few bike lengths at the finish.
“This race was important this year, nothing else,” said Kulhavy. “I won everything, world champs, World Cups. Now I am Olympic champion.”
Schurter said he hadn’t expected Kulhavy to be as strong as he was.
“It was a great race. I performed to the maximum,” he said. “Just at the end, Jaroslav was a bit stronger than me. It is hard to get second, but it was a great day. I have to be happy with silver. It was an awesome feeling to compete here.”
Fontana, meanwhile, overcame a pair of mechanicals to take the bronze — including a snapped seat post — and pronounced himself satisfied.
“In the last lap I slowed down as I felt the rim touching the ground so I was afraid of a flat tire. (Also) I stayed too central on the seat and it broke off.
“I fought for the third place and I am satisfied with the bronze medal. The two guys ahead of me went really fast and for all season. They were better than me so credit to them.”
Defending champion Julien Absalon’s dream of winning a third consecutive gold in Olympic men’s mountain biking ended when the Frenchman suffered an early puncture and abandoned.
Absalon, champion at the 2004 Games in Athens and again four years later in Beijing, was left trailing from the very first lap.
“It’s the worst possible scenario for me, the one that I thought would be unlikely, a slow puncture in the first lap,” said the Frenchman. “On the start line I felt the tire and it did feel a little soft, but I told myself it was all in my imagination.
“It’s hard to finish my last Olympics like this. I was in good shape but after one lap, I was in (27th) place, 55 seconds behind. I didn’t have any chance to reach the podium.”
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