Nino Schurter knows what it means to be a mountain bike world champion. He’s done it nine times before and now at Les Gets again. Joy is like his first title. “I can’t believe it,” he repeats over and over in front of the television camera. He said nothing more about the doping issue of his great rival Matthias Flückiger than he said about it before the World Cup.
On a dusty last lap over a French Alpine meadow, Schurter had only Spaniard David Valero Serrano at his wheel. In every technical pass, over the roots of bony trees or among the rocks, the Swiss tried to get rid of his rival. The shorter is 1 meter 73 and flashes smoothly after obstacles. The Valero is more challenging with approximately one 90 meter during tight turns.
It was only in the last really difficult part that Schurter finally forced him to make a mistake. With relief, the Swiss threw themselves through the final winding turns under the ski lift at the winter sports village of Les Gates. The path to victory was open.
Schurter is a legend in his sport. He actually won his first world title in 2009 in Canberra. And at the Games he won medals of all colors: bronze in 2008, silver in 2012 and gold in 2016. But in Tokyo, Schurter ended up missing the Olympic podium.
That match was won by Tom Bidcock, who rivals Matthew van der Poel in prowess. The Brit can ride cyclocross and is a great talent on the road. At this year’s Tour de France, he won the stage for Alpes d’Huez. It was he who won the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo.
At Les Gets, Schurter set his race on Pidcock. Since the Briton had only driven two World Cup races – his road program did not allow for more entries – he had to start from one of the back rows of the grid. Schurter was up front in the sun wearing a cooling jacket and increased his speed on the first lap.
Pidcock is so tired
Within twenty minutes, Bidcock, who had become European champion a week and a half ago in Munich on a poor court, made his way from the background to the leading group with Schurter, Valero and Italian Luca Prido. In the following laps, Bidcock sometimes had to let the trio go for a while, but each time he came back. Even after an hour’s drive Schurter attacked and Pidcock proved too tired to follow due to the catching-up race in the opening kilometres. After crashing and changing the rear wheel into the physical post, the podium was definitely out of sight for the 23-year-old Englishman. Braidot came in third.
Those who had to name the main characters at the World Cup a few weeks ago would have chosen Schurter, Bidcock and Mathias Flückiger. And in a sense, Flückiger also played a leading role, if only because of his absence.
Two weeks ago, he tested positive for zeranol, a growth factor from ranching that athletes sometimes use in the hope of extra muscle growth. It has also not been proven successful, but it is on the doping list and the 33-year-old Flückiger, a silver medalist in Tokyo and in the past three World Cups, has been provisionally suspended.
His innocence was declared through national coach Bruno Diethelm. This is not impossible. In 2017, American sprinter Agie Wilson was not stopped for the 800 metres. She had eaten contaminated meat, something that could happen sooner in the US than in Europe, because the doping agent is not allowed in livestock in the EU.
The news of doping has hit the Swiss and with it the entire mountain bike world, because Switzerland is considered a superpower. The Alpine country does not owe this status to the winner Schurter. At the Tokyo Games, the all-women’s podium was Swiss, with Jolanda Neff, Sina Fry and Linda Endergand.
Neff, second in the women’s competition after France’s Pauline Ferrand-Privaux, was shocked in the week leading up to the World Cup. According to her, Flückiger is “the nicest person on earth” and is the victim of a brutal act that may have been done by someone else. “There are bad people out there who just want to hurt someone else,” she said. No other explanation was provided.
Just Shorter was silent. He and Flückiger do not like each other. This season, the rivalry between the two 30-year-olds came to a head at the World Cup in Linzerheide, Switzerland. On the final lap, out of sight of the cameras, Flückiger allegedly knocked Schurter and himself off for the sake of it. According to Flückiger, it was nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence.
The folds between the two men could have been ironed out now. However, the relationship had yet to get to the point of making Schurter publicly take it for Flückiger’s favour. However, with his 10th world title, he at least offers Swiss mountain bike enthusiasts something to remove the bad taste of Flückiger’s doping affair.
“Professional reader. Award-winning gamer. Zombie buff. Social media junkie. Bacon maven. Web scholar.”