In a thrilling near-sprint finish, Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) has won the Olympic mountain bike cross-country race at Hadleigh Farm Essex, from Nino Schurter (Switzerland) and Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy).
After almost 90 minutes of cat-and mouse between the final top three, Kulhavy powered past Schurter in the zig-zag approach to the finish and held him off for the final 100m to the line.
Minutes earlier disaster had struck for Fontana as he lost his saddle and seatpost, depriving the crowd of a rare three-man sprint finish.
An exhausted Kulhavy, leaning on his handlebars and panting hard, told the BBC at the finish: “It was really hard at the end because we just went full gas. I put everything into this race.
“This race was the most important thing this year. Nothing else [mattered]. I’ve won everything else, and now I am the Olympic champion.”
Unfortunately, Great Britain’s Liam Killeen crashed on Deane’s Drop and is reported to have broken his ankle. Defending champion Julien Absalon (France) pulled out after a puncture.
How it went down
With 20,000 fans cheering the riders on, the race opened with a blistering two-up holeshot from the Swiss duo of Nino Schurter and Florian Vogel who set the pace to the foot of the climb and flew down Triple Trouble and Deans Drop.
A small wheel touch mid-pack helped the Swiss duo pull away on the first climb, but the pack quickly reeled them in.
The Czech Republic’s Jaroslav Kulhavy got between the Swiss riders after the first lap halfway mark.
Schurter led up the Breathtaker climb and by the end of lap one Kulhavy led a front trio with Schurter and Marco Fontana of Italy as Vogel dropped away. These three would go on to dominate the race.
But they didn’t have it all their own way. As they climbed Snake Hill on the second lap, Jose Hermida of Spain was chasing hard to try and bridge across to the leaders with South Africa’s Burry Stander similarly closing on Hermida.
Hermida and Stander joined forces to chase and as the leaders passed through the tech support zone on lap three, the gap was closing.
Stander was clearly the stronger of the two chasers. After a poor start he had fought his way back from 19th place and when he led Hermida to the lead trio he attempted to blow straight past. Schurter and Kulhavy shut the door on him and the lead group was now five strong.
The lead swapped multiple times over the next several laps as Schurter, Kulhavy, Stander and Fontana worked together to consolidate their lead. Hermida often looked to be struggling to stay in contention, though, and didn’t make the pace.
A four-man game of cat-and-mouse developed as each of the leaders would attempt to create a gap, only to be reeled in. At one point Stander took the lead through the rock garden, overtaking Schurter, but moments later was at the back of the group after faltering on the rocky section toward end of lap four.
At the end of lap four, Stander attacked again, but Kulhavy and Schurter comfortably stayed with him. Later that lap Kulhavy moved to the front and piled on the pressure briefly, but was unable to shake the rhythm of the lead group.
On lap five, Kulhavy made the decisive move, turning up the gas again so that only Schurter and Fontana could go with him. Stander was unable to match Kulhavy’s pace and by the end of lap five his face seemed to show acceptance that he was, barring a miracle, riding for fourth.
Hermida had looked uncomfortable whenever the going got hard and this was the final gap he too couldn’t close.
Fontana made a move on the sixth ascent of Snake climb, Schurter staying with him, but Kulhavy relaxed and let a gap form briefly before the lead trio reformed.
On the sixth time through the rock garden it was still Schurter looking comfortable at the front of a tight lead group of Kulhavy and Fontana.
Stander and Hermida were still chasing valiantly as the leaders got the bell for the seventh and final lap, the gap down to just 13 seconds from the previous margin of 25 seconds.
Schurter attempted to escape on the climb after the start arena, but Kulhavy was having none of it.
Fontana took the lead in the final lap, and he and Schurter briefly dropped Kulhavy. Behind him the chase was on for bronze as Hermida and Stander had one last attempt to get back up – could they get back to Kulhavy?
But with half a lap to go the lead trio was once again back together as Kulhavy powered back into contention.
It was about this point that disaster struck for Fontan: he lost his saddle and seatpost.
Schurter attacked again, Kulhavy went with him, and they gapped Fontana.
On the final smooth climb, Kulhavy led, with Schurter right on his tail, Fontana gradually dropping back thanks to that disastrous mechanical.
Schurter attacked into the rocky climb, aiming to control through the technical zone, and with a kilometre to go, he kept on the pressure.
As Schurter led into the final short climb, Kulhavy took the inside line and slammed the door shut on Schurter. As Kulhavy dove for the line in the last 100 metres, Schurter had no answer and no room to pass. The gold medal went to the big rider from the Czech Republic who hadn’t made a single significant error all race.
Behind Kulhavy and Schurter, Fontana hung on valiantly for bronze.
1 Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) 1:29:07
2 Nino Schurter (Switzerland)
3 Marco Aurelio Fontana (Italy)
4 Jose Antonio Hermida Ramos (Spain)
5 Burry Stander (South Africa)
6 Manuel Fumic (Germany)
7 Carlos Coloma Nicolas (Spain)
8 Geoff Kabush (Canada)
9 Alexander Gehbauer (Austria)
10 Todd Wells (USA)
11 Stephane Tempier (France)
12 Jan Skarnitzl (Czech Republic)
13 Gerhard Kerschbaumer (Italy)
14 Ondrej Cink (Czech Republic)
16 Ralph Naef (Switzerland)
16 Samuel Schultz (USA)
17 Marek Konwa (Poland)
18 Rudi van Houts (Netherlands)
19 Kevin van Hoovels (Belgium)
20 Karl Markt (Austria)
21 Daniel McConnell (Australia)
22 Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez (Spain)
23 David Joao Serralheiro Rosa (Portugal)
24 Rubens Valeriano (Brazil)
25 Florian Vogel (Switzerland)
26 Catriel Andres Soto (Argentina)
27 Kohei Yamamoto (Japan)
28 Hector Leonardo Paez Leon (Colombia)
29 Jean-Christophe Peraud (France)
30 Marc Bassingthwaighte (Namibia)
31 Sergji Rysenko (Ukraine)
32 Piotr Brzozka (Poland)
33 Periklis Ilias (Greece)
34 Moritz Milatz (Germany)
35 Philip Buys (South Africa)
36 Paolo Cesar Montoya Cantillo (Costa Rica)
37 Evgeniy Pechenin (Russia)
38 Chun Hing Chan (Hong Kong)
39 Adrien Niyonshuti (Rwanda)
40 Marios Athanasiadis (Cyprus)
41 Weisong Tong (China)
42 Derek Horton (Guam)
DNF Andras Parti (Hungary)
DNF Julien Absalon (France)
DNF Liam Killeen (Great Britain)
DNF Max Plaxton (Canada)
DNF Sven Nys (Belgium)
DNS Robert Forstemann (Germany)
DNS Michael Vingerling (Netherlands)
DNS Sam Bewley (New Zealand)