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, in what's bound to be among the most dominant performances by a team at these Tokyo Games.
"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."
Switzerland’s first and only other Olympic women’s mountain biking medal before Tokyo was earned by Barbara Blatter, a silver at the 2000 Sydney Games. With its medal hat-trick Tuesday the Swiss pass the Germans and Canadians, both at three apiece, for most all-time with four.
A first across all sports at the Tokyo Games, the Swiss Olympic Team's sweep is its first since the 1936 Berlin Olympics when it won all three medals in the gymnastics men’s floor exercise. Three cycles before that, at the 1924 Paris Games, it did the same in the men's pommel horse.
Neff, who broke her hand in a race just last month, led at each full circuit split to finish in 1:15:46. The 2017 world champion and her fellow countrywomen commanded more than half the race together, particularly the last three laps. Her winning gap – 1:11 – tops Italian Paola Pezzo's 1:07 from 1996 for the widest in the event's 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.
Haley Batten, 22, was the top American in ninth place. She commented on the course conditions post-race.
"Some of the climbs had some really steep corners that, after this rain, were really slick. I think it was hard to know if I should get off and run, or if I should try and ride it," she said. "That was definitely the trickiest trying to stay in the zone in your flow, but also trying to give as much as you can, but sometimes the course just throws a curveball."
Batten's teammate Kate Courtney, who fractured an ulna in May, was 15th.
"It wasn't my best race," the 2018 world champion said, "but I think there's no other event where you cross the line in a less than ideal position, and still feel really honored and humbled to be here representing your country and representing your family, and for me, it's just been really an honor to be here in the first place."