Neff wins as Swiss sweep Olympic mountain bike race

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Jolanda Neff led the way as Switzerland claimed an impressive medal sweep in the women’s Olympic mountain bike cross-country race on Tuesday.

The 2017 world champion Neff claimed an undisputed victory on the treacherous course in Izu, winning the race over five laps and 20.55 kilometres in 1 hour 15 minutes 46 seconds.

Sina Frei trailed by 1:11 for silver and Linda Indergand completed a first-ever Olympic sweep for a nation in the event with bronze, another eight seconds back.

Neff had also won the Olympic test event event on the course in 2019 ahead of Frei but not managed a World Cup podium so far this year.

The Swiss SDA-Keystone news agency said it was the third Swiss medal sweep at Olympics, following gymnasts in 1924 and 1936.

Organizers decided to shorten the race by one lap ahead of the start because rain overnight and in the morning had made conditions even more difficult.

French rider Loana Lecomte had won all four World Cup races in 2021 but had to settle for sixth, almost three minutes back. Compatriot Pauline Ferrand Prevot was 10th and continued the trend that the reigning world champion doesn’t win Olympic gold.

Prevot struggled and an early fall helped Neff ride away from the opposition early. And when Lecomte’s chain came off in the later stages the Swiss were effectively assured of their sweep.

“I just hope that I don’t wake up one moment and it’s just a dream,” Neff said.

“It was my goal for today to enjoy it and have fun out there and I did have fun out there. I found a good rhythm. It was such a good race and an incredible result for the whole team.”

Neff got gold just six weeks after breaking her hand, one of several injuries she has sustained in the dangerous sport, most notably a grade five spleen rupture, a partially collapsed lung and two broken ribs in a training accident in the United States in December 2019.

“I broke my hand six weeks ago, I didn’t ride off-road for the past six weeks, I only got back on the bike for the first time here and I can’t say how much it means to me,” she said.

Indergand said: “We knew we could cycle well. The others made mistakes and we stayed calm.”

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