The Tokyo Olympics hasn’t even started yet, and there have already been more news cycles coming out of Japan than we can throw a carbon crank at. With everything from cardboard beds supposedly designed to discourage extracurricular activities, a potential sewage leak in the swimming venue for the Olympic triathlon, and of course the ongoing spectre of Covid, this is set to be a Games like no other.
XCO will once again feature at this year’s Games, and if the World Cup rounds so far are any sort of a litmus test, Tokyo is going to be gangbusters. We’ve already seen the world’s best riders take on the Izu Olympic MTB course back in 2019, where Nino Schurter and Jolanda Neff came away with wins. However, that was two years ago and neither of the Swiss riders has been quite as dominant this season, so the race is very much up for grabs.
Australia has two riders zipping up their green and gold skinsuits, with Bec and Dan McConnell competing in their third and fourth Games respectively. Anton Cooper will be flying the flag for New Zealand as the country’s solo MTB athlete.
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What is the course like?
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The 4km Izu MTB course sees 180m of climbing per lap and is littered with logs and car-sized boulders. The sections to watch out for are the Sakura Drop, a mandatory A-line which according to the spectator guide will see riders “hurtling out from atop a ridge as if there were cherry blossom petals soaring over Mount Fuji,” and the Karesansui, a rock garden descent that looks more suited to a DH World Cup than an XC race.
Following the 2019 test event, Schurter said, “It’s definitely the toughest course I’ve seen for an Olympics.”
The field for the Olympic XC will see 38 riders for both the men’s and women’s races, which is about a third of what you get at a World Cup so there will be a bit more breathing room out on the course, however, the holeshot off the start will still be just as valuable.
The 2019 test event was bone dry, and if long-term weather forecasts are to be believed, the men’s and women’s races should be precipitation free. Should the forecast change, those logs and rock features will become an entirely different ball game, and the grassy sections of the course will turn into a mud bog — lucky for the riders, the last few World Cups have served as excellent preparation for wet racing.
How do I watch the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games MTB XCO?
Channel 7 is carrying the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, with coverage of the opening ceremony starting at 8:30 pm on Friday 23 July, and then running pretty much wall to wall on Channel 7 and 7Mate until the Closing Ceremony on 8 August.
The Men’s XCO race starts at 4 pm on Monday 26 July, with the awards ceremony kicking off at 5:45 pm. The Women’s race is the following day, Tuesday 27 July, at the same time.
Unfortunately, the TV guides currently available say that every time slot is showing ‘Softball: Australia Vs Japan’, so for the time being we can’t tell whether the race will be broadcast over the air.
Luckily, the entire Games will be streaming on the 7Plus app, with over 40 channels of live events. If you haven’t downloaded the app already, it’s available for Android, IOS and most smart TVs, but you will need to enter your email address for access.
Will Loana Lecomte be able to continue her dominance and ride off the front as she has at every World Cup, can Jolanda Neff win once again on the Izu course, or will Jenny Rissveds defend her Olympic title? In the Men’s Race, it’s hard to look past Mathieu van der Poel or Tom Pidcock, but with Mathias Flückiger coming into form and Nino Schurter and Jordan Sarrou not far off the winning pace, the only thing we can say for sure is that it will be fantastic spectating.