Mountain biker Jolanda Neff of Switzerland took the lead on the first lap Tuesday in Japan and never looked back, capturing her nation’s first gold in the women’s event by more than a minute to front a first-ever Olympic podium sweep by one country in the discipline's history.
Neff's compatriots Sina Frei and Linda Indergand earned silver and bronze, beating the next pack of riders by about a minute themselves to complete what's bound to be among the most dominant performances by a team at these Tokyo Games.
Switzerland’s first and only other Olympic women’s mountain biking medal prior to Tokyo was Barbara Blatter’s silver earned at the 2000 Sydney Games. That along with its all-at-once three medals won Tuesday pass the Germans and Canadians' three for most all-time.
Neff, who broke her hand in a race just last month, led for all five full circuits to finish in 1:15:46. The 2017 world champion and her fellow countrywomen commanded more than half the race together, splitting the last three laps at the front. Her winning gap – 1:11 – tops Italian Paola Pezzo's 1:07 from Atlanta in 1996 for the widest in Games history.
Before the race start officials altered the Izu ITB Course from six to five laps due to “extreme weather conditions,” and added a ramp to Sakura Drop, the site of Monday’s solo crash involving Dutch medal contender Mathieu van der Poel, who ultimately didn’t finish.
Austrian Laura Stigger led through the start loop before being overtaken by France’s Loana Lecomte at the start of the first full circuit, followed by a four-rider chase pack.
Later on in a tricky part of the course, while others struggled in the dirt, Neff took advantage of a separate path to take the lead.
Lecomte’s teammate Pauline Ferrand-Prevot , the two-time reigning world champion, then traded the lead position with Neff until an unlucky slip at the Chopsticks rock incline. She tried to take the shortest line up the formation but her bike slid out, losing precious time while it dropped down to the bottom.
Neff led through the first lap and controlled the rest of the way, increasing her lead to 50 seconds at the end of the second circuit and holding it for the third, fourth and fifth.
Coincidentally, or perhaps not at all, the Swiss trio finished first, second and sixth at the Olympic test event in October 2019.