Sagan who? Tough Olympic MTB field ready for Tour de France champ
August 1, 2016
Jaroslav Kulhavy trained so hard for the Olympics that he didn't have time to finish work on a new house.
It took a broken left hand to finally slow him down on the mountain bike, though it's not the kind of break he needed as he works to get back atop the medal stand in Rio. There is little time to rest with some of cycling's best-known names looking to unseat the Czech champion.
In March, Kulhavy had surgery on the hand he broke during a race in Cyprus. After a five-week recovery, he was back on the World Cup circuit in May.
"The main thing is that I didn't fall anywhere because the terrain was very slippery," he said on his website after finishing fifth at La Bresse. "I have the points, and my performance looks good. I was riding in a good feeling especially at the end."
Some notes and other things to watch in mountain bike during the Rio Games:
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There are two familiar names atop the world rankings: Nino Schurter of Switzerland and Julien Absalon of France. Schurter won silver in 2012 and bronze in 2008. Absalon, a two-time Olympic gold medalist, had his hopes dashed for another first-place finish in London by a flat tire.
World road race champion Peter Sagan will try to win gold at Rio on a mountain bike. The Slovak Cycling Association said he agreed to give up his road spot for the mountain biking berth. He tested the difficult road course in Rio in January and decided it was too hilly for him to contend. He's a former junior world champion in mountain biking.
Annika Langvad of Denmark was the top-ranked female rider internationally going into the world championships in late June, with three World Cup series wins over the last year. She was followed closely by Switzerland's Jolanda Neff, the World Cup winner in 2014 and 2015. Julie Bresset from France, who won gold in 2012, is an alternate this year.
LEA IN THE LEAD
The top U.S. contender is Lea Davison, ranked 15th in the world. She finished 11th in London and since the last Olympics, Davison had surgery to repair torn cartilage in her right hip in January 2014, about four years after needing a similar procedure on her left hip.
She felt good this spring, though ran into some bad luck after gashing her elbow during a World Cup race in May, stunting momentum for a top finish. Davison finished the race still bleeding, in 18th place. Davison, who had five top-10 finishes in World Cup races in the last year, is heading to Rio on a high after finishing second at worlds in early July.
The women's mountain bike World Cup circuit "is ridiculously competitive and deep right now," Davison said.
The other women's spot on Team USA went to Chloe Woodruff, ranked 28th in the world. She won nationals in 2015.
"This is a dream come true," Woodruff said on Facebook after learning on June 23 that she made her first Olympics.
The lone men's spot on the U.S. team is going to 23-year-old Howard Grotts. He was chosen over Stephen Ettinger, who is four years older but higher ranked in the world. With the United States a longshot to medal, Rio will serve as a learning experience for Grotts.
ON THE COURSE
The 3-plus mile-long, man-made Rio course has received good reviews from riders. Marc Gullickson, director of the USA Cycling Mountain Bike program, said the course was well-manicured, with challenging, though not extremely dangerous, features. The course, riders have said, makes for a television-friendly event. Heat could be an issue, though, with no trees to provide shade.