Spectators and critics agree that the London Olympic Cross-Country-Race was the most exciting and thrilling final professional mountain biking competition has ever seen. In a mind-blowing battle, swiss rider Nino Schurter and Jaroslav Kulhavy fought for Olympic Gold - with the better end for the Czech.
When Nino Schurter won the bronze medal in Beijing fours years ago, the SCOTT athlete had one big goal: the Gold medal in London 2012. In order to prepare for this big competition Nino focused his whole training and his entire life on this goal. He didn't make any mistakes. On his way to London he was winning almost everything including the world championships in 2009, the overall world cup twice and four out of seven world cup races this year. As the big race got closer, two times Olympic champion Julien Absalon’s words from the press conference were well remembered: “In London Nino will be the man to beat.”
Nino Schurter on his SCOTT Scale 700
Absalon was also one of the big favorites for Gold but had to quit early after a crash that resulted in a flat tire. Only two of the very big favorites where left, Schurter and world champion Kulhavy. They set a tremendous high speed at the beginning that only Italian champion Marco Aurelio Fontana was able to keep up with. For some time South African Burry Stander and Spanish Jose Antonio Hermida joined the trio and they ended up finishing 4th and 5th. But at the end it was down to the three again.
The difference in strength was obvious. Schurter always gained some meters on the technical bits of the course, while Kulhavy seemed to close those gaps easily on the climbs and on the flats. Fontana was riding smart and was not getting involed in the duel of the top two. But it was Nino who controlled most of the race and seemed to be the fastest overall and he looked confident from the start to finish.
Nino always leading the way in the downhills
The pace was high. All three of them tried some attacks but none of them managed to get away. The last lap decides the medals and everyone was hoping for one of those famous finales of Nino. Everything was looking good as he stayed in first position trough almost the entire last lap and even managed to drop Fontana, who finished 3rd.
At the front Nino was still leading into the final three turns. But on the very last little climb "the ice man" surprised Nino on the inside of a long left hand turn. This was the winning move of Kulhavy.
Nino dominated most of the race
The disappointment at the finish was huge. With the way Nino was riding, everyone expected him to win. “Up until 200 meters before the finish it was my perfect race. Everything went superb. I was able to ride at my best, my SCOTT Scale 700 with the new SRAM XX1 was a great choice. I had no critical moments. It all looked so good for me, I was sure I would win!” Said Nino.
No one knows what might have happened if the last stretch would have been a bit longer...
But Kulhavy passed by in the left hand turn at the end of the very last uphill. "After he passed me and I thought I could still catch him on the final straight…but it was too short", Nino said. In the end Nino just couldn't keep the pace and Kulhavy was the winner.
Nino (left) on the podium.
The tears in his eyes showed more bitterness than happiness about his silver. This is easy to understand after realizing the dream he was going for over the past 4 years just disappeared in a few seconds. But this disappointment will go away soon, when he realizes what a great performance he showed in London. To us from the team, his fans and sponsors, he is the hero of the race, a hero who failed by only one second.
INTERVIEW with Nino Schurter
We asked Nino after the race about his personal view on this battle. Please feel free to use this interview (also available in german and french):
“I wanted to keep it fair.”
With London 2012 behind him, Silver medalist Nino Schurter gives us his view on the spectacular Cross Country race that took place.
Nino, your winning strategy almost worked out for you. How do you see the race after having some time to reflect?
NINO SCHURTER: "Looking back now I think we saw one of the most exciting races in mountain bike history. My strategy was perfect and I attacked right from the beginning, never letting more than one of the other racers get in front. I was so sure I could pull it off, right up to the last 200 meters before the finish line. It’s not easy to come in second after a performance like this but I have to accept it."
You have been dominating the 2012 world cup season and you were ahead during most of the Olympic race. How do you look back on the crucial situation at the end?
NINO SCHURTER: "To be honest, I didn’t expect a performance like this from Jaroslav Kulhavy since he has not had the most successful world cup season this year. I was especially surprised when he attacked right before the finish line and I didn’t have the power to launch a counter attack. Until those last 200 meters I had a fantastic race because I set the pace and could make use of my full potential, it was MY race. I had no mechanical problems and the SCOTT Scale 700 equipped with the new SRAM XX1 worked flawlessly. I was convinced I would take the victory. But Kulhavy was strong throughout the whole race and picked up his speed on the last round. I was out of energy on the last climb and couldn’t follow his attack."
Do you think you should have blocked the inside of the turn?
NINO SCHURTER: "Reviewing the race I can’t really complain about anything and I would do it all over again in the same way. Jaroslav came into the last climb with lots of speed and at the bottom he was already right next to me. I wanted to keep it fair so I stayed on my racing line and accepted the fact that Kulhavy had the stronger final. In the end a victory is only worth enjoying if it’s within your own means and played by the rules."
What are your predominating feelings in retrospective on the 2012 Olympics?
NINO SCHURTER: "I know that this was one of my best performances ever and I am proud to have achieved two Olympic podiums at the age of 26. We had a great team and London 2012 will always hold fond memories for me."
Being only 26 years old you still have your best years to come. What will be your next goals, short and long term?
NINO SCHURTER: "The dream of an Olympic gold medal will definitely be motivation enough to have Rio de Janeiro 2016 as one of my main goals!"
Download the german version of Nino's interview here
Download the french version of Nino's interview here
Nino with his silver medal
Nino was riding the SCOTT Scale 700
The 27,5" (650b) machine was set up with...
...some nice parts
Less successful was the outcome of Florian Vogel’s Olympic experience. He had an excellent start but the extreme tempo of the leaders was just too high. He fell back position by positionand eventually ended up in 25th place, far away from his potential.
SCOTT athlete Florian Vogel couldn't achieve his own expectations
“I have no idea why I had one of the the worst races of the year. After the first few laps I was totally dead” stated our second rider.
Flo plans to turn things around for the upcoming world championships in Saalfelden, Austria, coming up in the next few weeks.
Geoff Kabush's incredible performance
Three-time Olympian and SCOTT 3Rox athlete Geoff Kabush also had an amazing race in London, finishing 8th."With so many variables in mountain biking I was happy to be able to produce a solid competitive race in London. I've always dreamed and prepared to compete for a medal at the Olympics but I have to be satisfied with the best ever Canadian Olympic result in 8th." he stated happily.
Geoff Kabush raced to a 8th place
Kabush not only achieved the best ever canadian result at an Olympics race, but also the best north american placement: "I owe a huge thanks to the incredible supporting cast behind the scenes as I couldn't do it with this team behind me. My team SCOTT-3Rox Racing Team and all my sponsors provided me with striking custom gear and Scale 29er that made this special race even more memorable. I have truly enjoyed the journey to London and if I continue to have as much fun racing as I am now I might make another run at Rio 2016. Thanks to everyone who has sent messages of support and congratulations."
Photo credits for action shots: Team SCOTT Swisspower