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European Olympic Games, Baku 2015, MTB XC photo report

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BY: Paul Sanwell

Published: 13th June, 2015

Switzerland's trio of riders take 1,2,3 in men's mountain bike cross-country at the Baku 2015 European Games, led home by Nino SCHURTER (SUI).

Not even a flat tyre could prevent Nino SCHURTER (SUI) from spearheading a Swiss sweep of the medals in men's cross-country mountain bike, as the Alpine country made a remarkable start to the Baku 2015 European Games.

"There was some glass on the track and I don't know if the tyre had some glass in it or it was just leaking air somehow," said SCHURTER, the London 2012 silver medallist and Beijing 2008 bronze medallist.

"It was lucky I was able to change the wheel before the pack overtook me," said SCHURTER, who added it took him about 25 seconds to fit a replacement on the Mountain Bike Velopark course.

SCHURTER had just made a break for glory and ended the second lap with a 23-second advantage, when he got the flat tyre and joined into a five-strong pack that included eventual silver medallist Lukas FLUCKIGER (SUI) and bronze winner Fabian GIGER (SUI) as the third lap ended.

"I really left a lot behind with that first break, and it took me two or three laps to recover," said SCHURTER.

Triple world champion SCHURTER then kicked again on the sixth of eight laps and the Swiss trio enjoyed a stroke of luck when Ondrej CINK (CZE) and Gerhard KERSCHBAUMER (ITA) collided just as the medal race started in earnest.

Lukas FLUCKINGER and Fabian GIGER collected silver and bronze, meaning Switzerland took five of the six mountain bike medals on offer as women's gold medallist Jolanda NEFF (SUI) spearheaded a gold-silver punch with Kathrin STIRNEMANN.

"Its an amazing feeling to win here," SCHURTER said. "It was a tactical race, especially with the strong wind, but it is really cool to have three Swiss on the podium at the first European Games."

Before the race, all the Swiss men had said the course would suit their style with its short uphill stretches, allowing them to push powerfully uphill and force the pace, and so it proved.

SCHURTER made a decisive break on the sixth of eight laps, by the end of which he held a 19-second lead over FLUCKIGER, who, together with GIGER a further 2 seconds behind, had pulled well clear of Ondrej CINK (CZE) and Gerhard KERSCHBAUMER (ITA), both of whom had featured in a tight-knit, five-strong leading pack until then.

And SCHURTER was able to afford the luxury of easing down at the end, winning by 13 seconds over FLUCKIGER, finished 20 seconds ahead of GIGER.

"I know Fabian and Lukas pretty well," said SCHURTER. "We are good friends and it was amazing how we were able to work together here and it is nice to be on the podium with them."

SCHURTER, who took silver at London 2012, bronze at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and has been world champion three times, crashed in last month's International Cycling Union (UCI) race in Albstadt, Germany, injuring his upper left side, which he had said was troubling him in the build-up to Baku 2015.

The punishing terrain, strong winds, heat and fine dust made it an exceedingly demanding. The man made factor was the course, expertly hewn using the two escarpments on either side of the site, giving the riders precious little flat ground to recoup their strength, before yet another climb or very technical decent.

Quotes from Orkhan MAMMADOV (AZE) and Agshin ISMAYILOV (AZE) after the men's mountain bike cross-country race at Mountain Bike Velopark on Saturday.

Orkhan MAMMADOV on finishing last:

"I dreamt that I ended up in last. Unfortunately, my dream came true.

"Just a few seconds after the start something happened to my bike and I could not turn the handle bar. No luck today."


On placing 38th:

"Because of the world ranking points, I had to start from the 42nd position (in the starting grid) and fell down during the first lap and then I was behind 80% from the competition leader. So, according to the rules, I was eliminated.

"With this unlucky situation, it was really hard to compete with Swiss masters."


The earlier women's race was also dominated by the Swiss, who took the first two places on the podium.

Switzerland's Jolanda NEFF blew away her rivals in the wind to storm to victory in a gruelling women's mountain bike cross-country race and collect the first gold medal of the Baku 20125 European Games.

NEFF, who last year became the youngest rider to win the International Cycling Union (UCI) World Cup at the age of 21, was followed home by team-mate Kathrin STIRNEMANN (SUI) and third-placed Maja WLOSZCZOWSKA (POL).

"I planned to wait a bit longer to kick but patience is not my strong point," said NEFF, who broke away from the leading pack towards the end of the third of six laps to win by 2 minutes and 3 seconds.

The leading pack of eight had stayed tightly bunched until that point, the riders trying to save energy under a burning sun and in the face of a ferocious wind.

"It's really cool that my team-mate Kathrin was second and that my good mate Maja was third," said NEFF.

NEFF and WLOSZCZOWSKA were wearing a commemorative rubber friendship-style bracelet in memory of the Polish rider's former coach, Marek GALINSKI (POL), who was killed in a car crash in March 2014.

The riders are firm friends off the track, having been team-mates with Giant Pro Cross-Country on the UCI World Cup circuit in 2013 and 2014.

Silver medallist STIRNEMANN bounced back to form, having suffered from pollen and dust mite allergies in the spring that had affected her breathing and performances.

She had tracked WLOSZCZOWSKA for much of the latter stages before confirming her return to fitness with a devastating late burst to deprive the Pole of silver.

"Kathrin and I worked together and it was good that we pulled clear of the fourth," WLOSZCZOWSKA said. "I'm not the best sprinter. I tried my best, but the silver slipped away."

Some of the factors the riders, and others had to contend with.

The local snake population was reportedly going about it's natural business of procreating and was an added concern for any falling riders, unweary spectators or photographers.

Hydration was paramount, the heat, strong winds and exertion made body evaporation an insidious enemy.

The track, worthy of a championship, was a fitting nemesis for those thinking it was going to be an easy medal. Such a shame there were no GB team riders entered!

This was only the second International Mountain Bike event ever staged in Azerbaijan, it was an expertly planned and coordinated international competition with the friendliness and co-operation of a local meet.

The Azerbaijan nation was formally part of the USSR, it's Oil reserves have given it economic stability (Petrol and diesel prices are under half the cost in the UK) and the Baku residents are seeing some amazing architecture appearing on the skyline whilst still having remnants of soviet times. 

Baku resides next to the Caspian Sea which is the world's largest inland body of water, with a surface area of 371,000 km² (143,000 sq. mi.), and therefore has characteristics common to both seas and lakes. It is often listed as the world's largest lake, though it is not freshwater.

All images have worldwide copyright, and are the property of OP Photographic. All unauthorised use will be invoiced at OPP standard rates.

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