After many setbacks and years of uncertainty over whether or not this moment would ever arrive I finally made it to my first ever Olympic Games!
Things were really starting to click for me this year and I was piecing together strong and consistent performances which was a promising sign for a high placing in Tokyo. Unlike the World Cup series where you get 6-8 chances per year to win or World Champs which roll around annually the Olympics only happens every 4 years, (or in this case 5!).
Getting selected to the Olympic Games is a big challenge in itself and it hurts massively to miss out. Something I experienced in 2016 and can sympathise with all athletes who missed out on their respective nations team’s this time around. New Zealand had only qualified one spot so this put some extra pressure on the riders in contention to perform, but thankfully my performances throughout the qualification period this time around were enough to see me through to the big dance.
I arrived in Tokyo exactly 1 week out from the race, which was the earliest that athletes were allowed into the village. The MTB and track cyclists were set up in a smaller satellite village, much closer to the MTB course and Olympic velodrome than the main village. COVID restrictions meant that we were limited to a 15km out and back road for training on until official course practice began 3 days out from the event, which was enough to get the job done at least. We had great weather all week with temperatures hovering around 30-35 degrees and sun each day. The humidity was the biggest factor to contend with but I felt like I’d prepared as well as I could have for this and it didn’t affect me too much.
Race day was probably the coolest day of the week as it was slightly overcast and around 30 degrees. Taking to the start line I felt confident that I had done everything in my power to be ready for the race and was feeling good. I had a strong start from the second row and moved forward to be in touch with the leaders.
I felt strong over the first few laps and it was motivating to be in the medal positions, mixing it up at the front. I think it was on the fourth lap that Tom Pidcock attacked and I wasn’t able to go with him. Mathias Flückiger was the only one who came close to matching him and he also opened up a gap on the rest of us.
At that stage it was Nino and myself with Victor Koretzky not far behind along with Ondrej Cink, Alan Hatherly and many others still in contention for the bronze medal.
I took up the pacemaking on the 5th lap as I was still feeling pretty good and could sense that there was a strong and motivated pack of chasers coming from behind.
Ondrej Cink briefly passed us but immediately punctured and a bit of cat and mouse in our group on the 6th lap led to a few more riders being allowed back into contention for the final medal spot. David Valero from Spain was on a flyer and stormed home with the fastest last 3 laps of the race to catch and pass Victor, Nino and myself heading into the final lap.
It was still all to play for but unfortunately I had nothing left in the gas tank and had to settle for 6th after a tight sprint for 5th place with Victor, just 12 seconds arrears off the Bronze medal winner David Valero.
I was proud of my performance and the grit I showed. With 3 years until the next Olympic Games I can be content with my performance but still hungry and motivated to stand on the top step in Paris 2024. It was an incredible experience and honour to represent New Zealand at an Olympic Games and I’m already looking forward to the next one!
Thanks to the support crew and to everyone who has helped me over the years to achieve this goal.