The Olympic mountain bike race is a little under ten months away and you can bet that timeline is on the minds of the world's top cross-country mountain bikers and their coaches. Some have already qualified for the Olympics with their results in the 2019 World Cup season and at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Championships, while others have to wait until the Spring to find out whether they've met the Qualification criteria and will have the chance to represent their countries on the world's biggest sporting stage.
This Sunday, a select few will have the chance to compete in the Test Event on the Izu Mountain Bike course in Japan. The course is 4km in length with a vertical interval of 180 meters and will be raced during the Olympics on Monday, July 27, 2020 by the world's fastest male cross-country riders and Tuesday, July 28, 2020 by their female counterparts. Check out all the behind the scenes action on social media as riders get to see the course they hope their Olympic dreams will play out on for the very first time.
The eight-time World Champion, who also won the gold medal in mountain biking at the 2016 Olympics, the silver medal 2012 Olympics and the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics says the "jumps, drops, rock gardens and steeeeep uphills will make it challenging for everyone".
Nino will be one of the favorites next summer but he will face stiff competition from Mathieu Van Der Poel who nearly won the World Cup overall this year despite missing 2 rounds. One skinny-tired crossover Schurter won't have to worry about is Peter Sagan, who today confirmed he won't be targetting Olympic qualification for the mountain biking as he did in Rio 2016.
Jolanda Neff was a favourite for a medal at the last Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, but she finished a disappointing 6th. She'll be a favourite once again heading into the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Here she is getting her first taste of the Olympic course with the rest of the Swiss team.
The UCI's Simon Burney was the first to catch some riders on track, including a rider jumping over Mount Fuji.
Pauline Ferrand Prevot
The World Champion enjoying the peaceful atmosphere in Japan while wearing the French team kit for one last race this season.
Haley Smith hasn't qualified yet, but she had a third place in Nove Mesto this season so we wouldn't be surprised to see her securing one of the two spots that Team Canada will likely have. She says the course is "STEEP, unforgiving, and visually daunting/impressive."
Maja finished second to Jenny Rissveds at the Rio 2016 Olympics but seems a bit wary of the 2020 course. "XC course gonna be a huge challenge. Extremely steep climbs followed with rocky downhills. I have to admit that I’ve never (and I’m racing over 20 years) seen such a demanding lap. Both - physically and technically."
Kate Courtney has qualified for the 2020 Olympics already with her 5th place at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Championships, so you can bet she'll be structuring her training around the event in the coming year.
The top two countries in the nation ranking have three Olympic spots. Currently, that means Switzerland and the USA could have three athletes competing for the gold medal in the women's race. Sina Frei is likely to be one of those three athletes.
Jaroslav Kulhavy has had a bit of a lackluster season, but we're sure he's hoping he gets the chance to race in his fourth Olympics. He won gold in London and silver in Rio.
Anton Cooper finding some of Japan's gems.
After an injury at the beginning of the season, Lars Forster battled back and won the last World Cup race of the season in Snowshoe. He'll want to be one of the three riders represting Switzerland next July alongside his Scott-SRAM teammate Nino Schurter. Here he looks at a drop feature.
Two-time Olympian and top-ranked Czech male rider Ondrej Cink says the "course is quite interesting with a lot of rocks sections and steep climbs!"
The Canadian rider will be hoping for a second chance at representing Canada next year. Here he is on the course walk with 2016 bronze medallist in the women's race, Catharine Pendrel, Haley Smith, Peter Disera and the Canadian support team.
Here are some drone videos from a local news organization.
Who will it be on Sunday? Who will it be next July?