Tom Pidcock delivered Great Britain its first Olympic medal in mountain biking Monday, a gold, breaking midway at Shizuoka's Izu MTB Course to win the men's event by 20 seconds.
Team GB, historically known for its numerous medals and dominance in Olympic track cycling, was until Tokyo missing hardware in the sport's relatively new Games discipline, which debuted at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Eight-five total medals and 32 golds between the track and road – No. 2 among nations in the all-time standings – with none in mountain biking or BMX.
But a 21-year-old from Leeds, England, attained the absent decoration with a brilliant victory, leading the final two circuits of the seven-lap race to beat 37 riders and finish in 1:25:14.
"It's nothing like any other race," Pidcock said. "The Olympics just transcends any sport. You compete and represent your country and everyone in your country is behind you, no matter in what sports they like. It's just national pride, it's unbelievable."
The race began with a consequential crash on lap one. Medal favorite Mathieu van der Poel of the Netherlands crested Sakura Drop front-heavy, landing awkwardly on his front wheel. Helpless, his body flew over the handlebars and plummeted to the dirt course below.
A three-time reigning world champion in the non-Olympic cyclo-cross and Stage 2 winner of last month's 2021 Tour de France, Van Der Poel heroically stayed in the race for another four laps, gaining 12 positions before pulling out during the fifth circuit.
SEE MORE: Dutch mountain biker Van der Poel crashes big at Sakura Drop
Five riders were in the lead group by lap two, commanded by none other than Swiss mountain biking legend Nino Schurter, the defending Olympic champion and winner of eight world individual titles in the event since 2009.
Two riders then dropped from the pack during the next circuit but Pidcock joined, settling in behind Schurter and his compatriot Mathias Fluckiger, the 2020 world silver medalist, before unleashing a powerful attack headed into the fifth lap. Fluckiger responded, hanging on momentarily, but Pidcock's offensive proved to be unconquerable.
Pidcock maintained his lead for nearly five miles (7.7 km) and won comfortably. Fluckiger stuck behind for silver in 1:25:34 while Spaniard David Valero, ninth-place finisher in Rio, finished about a half-minute back of Pidcock for the bronze, Spain's second medal of the Games. Schurter finished fourth, leaving without a medal for the first time in four Olympics.
Switzerland now has six Olympic medals in the men's mountain biking event, passing France with five for the most of any country.
Lone American Christopher Blevins, a two-time under-23 world silver medalist from Durango, Colorado, finished about three minutes back in 14th place. The 23-year-old poet hobbyist beat out Keegan Swenson for the U.S. spot and made his Olympic debut in Monday's race. He's expected to be closer to the front when the 2024 Paris Games arrive in three years' time.
Mountain biking concludes early Tuesday with the women's event, which begins at 2 a.m. ET.