In Monday’s men’s MTB race at the Tokyo Olympics, the ‘Sakura Drop’ ended the medal hopes of Mathieu van der Poel (Netherlands). A day later, the same course feature very nearly spelled disaster for eventual winner Jolanda Neff (Switzerland), even after a training ramp was re-installed due to bad weather.
As Neff explained in her post-race press conference, it wasn’t the drop itself that was the problem, but rather some sudden braking from rival Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (France) on the first lap.
“She was in front of me and we were going at a good decent speed and then she pulled her brakes super hard and I couldn’t do anything,” Neff said. “I couldn’t brake and I ended up jumping with no speed at all. I was super lucky that I didn’t crash. It was such a stupid move of hers because it’s really dangerous for the people behind.
“I don’t know if she knew I was right there behind, but after that, I just thought, ‘I have to get away from her,'” Neff continued. “It’s scary because you never know what she’s going to do.
“It’s not the first time she does something like that, I’m just glad I wasn’t near her anymore. I was glad I was riding on my own and safe.”
The pair almost tangled later in that opening lap as well, with Neff and Ferrand-Prevot taking different lines on approach to a slippery uphill rock garden. When the pair converged, Ferrand-Prevot was forced to brake, ultimately losing control of her bike which tumbled down the rocks.
Until that moment the pair had been leading the race. As Ferrand-Prevot struggled to remount and work her way back through the field, Neff rode clear to lead the race on her own.
“Jolanda Neff went left, I went right,” Ferrand-Prevot said of the incident on the rock garden. “We were going at the same speed and we arrived at the same time. I said to myself, ‘If she doesn’t brake or if I don’t brake, we’ll hit each other,’ so I braked.
“There were rocks, it was slippery, and I slid off. The title was decided there. Afterwards, I don’t know if I would have beaten her, but in any case, the medal was decided there.”
Neff went on to a commanding win in a Swiss 1-2-3 while Ferrand-Prevot dropped back to 10th place after reaching second at one point in her chase.