The American men posted the best results in the country’s Olympic mountain bike history as they each placed in the top 15 of the race on Sunday to close the cycling portion of the 2012 Olympic Games. Three-time Olympic performer Todd Wells (Durango, Colo./Specialized Factory Racing) finished in 10th place while Sam Schultz(Missoula, Mont./Subaru-Trek) placed 15th in his Olympic debut.
Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE) won in a sprint finish in front of an estimated crowd of 20,000 on-site spectators, beating Nino Schurter (SUI) by just one second for the gold medal while Marco Aurelio Fontana (ITA) finished third, 25 seconds behind the winner. Wells finished the race in 1:31:28, 2:21 behind Kulhavy while Schultz finished in 1:32:29.
Prior to Sunday’s contest, the best an American man had finished the Olympic mountain bike race was in 19th place. Wells placed 19th in Athens in 2004 and David “Tinker” Juarez finished 19th at the first-ever Olympic mountain bike race in Atlanta in 1996.
Wells and Schultz each started slowly in the 34.08-kilometer race on a sunny, warm day. The two Americans were in the middle of the 50-rider field after the first long lap. Wells rebounded and started to surge through the field, moving up to 14th after the second lap. He continued overtaking riders as he moved into ninth position with a group of five riders about 1:29 behind the leaders. Heading into the sixth and last of the 4.82-kilometer laps, Wells and Stephane Tempier (FRA) were dueling for the last spot in the top 10. Wells held on to 10th to record the best finish by an American male in an Olympic mountain bike race.
“I didn’t have a very good start,” Wells said. “I started to move up in the middle of the race. I thought I was going to be able to get up to the front group. We were in the second chase group, I think for a while. I had bridged up to that, felt strong, started to go across and then I just ran out of juice.”
Schultz’s position in the race improved as the race continued. He finished his second long lap in 20th place before beginning to pass riders. Schultz, the reigning national champion, averaged just over 13 minutes on the six long laps as he moved from 20th after the first of those laps to 15th at the finish line.
“It was awesome,” Schultz said. “It was a super, cool race on such a huge stage with tons of people. It was definitely a different level. Tons of good cheers out there. Everyone was super fired up, you could definitely tell. It was a different vibe on the start line than a normal World Cup, which is always super tense. This was definitely up a level, which is really cool.”
1. Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE) 1:29:07
2. Nino Schurter (SUI) 1:29:08, +0:01
3. Marco Aurelio Fontana (ITA) 1:29:32, +0:25
10. Todd Wells (Durango, Colo./Specialized Factory Racing) 1:31:28, +2:21
15. Sam Schultz (Missoula, Mont./Subaru-Trek) 1:32:29, +3:22