Czech world champion Jaroslav Kulhavy was crowned king of the men's Olympic mountain biking after an epic seven-lap race which left Switzerland's Nino Schurter in a close second.
That last chicane was the last moment for an attack, and I was ready for it. It turned out to be the most important moment of the race.
Cycling at the 2012 London Olympic Games concluded with possibly one of the most exciting mountain bike races in the history of the sport.
Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic) outkicked race favourite Nino Schurter (Switzerland) after a knock-down, drag-out battle that left both riders collapsed on the ground after the finish. Marco Fontana (Italy), who had ridden with the two leaders until the final half lap, took the bronze medal on a bike with no saddle. Australia's only entrant, Daniel McConnell, finished 21st.
The men's seven lap race was expected to be a fast and aggressive battle between Schurter, two-time defending champion Julien Absalon (France) and Kulhavy with the Swiss rider, winner of the World Cup series already this season, wasting no time in attacking on the start loop to open a gap.
Kulhavy, Absalon, Manuel Fumic (Germany), Fontana and Florian Vogel (Switzerland) quickly joined Schurter at the front, but Absalon immediately had problems and fell back before abandoning on lap two. It turned out that he had a slow leak in his front tire, and got caught behind a crash.
By lap two the final selection was clear, with Schurter, Kulhavy and Fontana having carved out a slight but significant lead on Burry Stander (South Africa) and Jose Hermida (Spain). The two chasers would briefly make contact with the front three on the third and fifth laps, but were quickly dropped again when the pace surged as both Schurter and Kulhavy tested each other out. Fontana was content to follow.
A pre race favourite, Stander's fifth place finish at 30sec was regarded as a disappointment.
"It's four years and I had a realistic chance, but there were 10 guys here with a realistic chance of winning this race," said South African.
By the penultimate lap, it was clear that either Kulhavy or Schurter would take the Olympic title. Knowing the Swiss rider had the better finishing kick, Kulhavy tried to power away. But Schurter was able to respond to every attack, and throw in his own jumps to make Kulhavy chase.
On the final lap the two were still together, with Fontana rejoining them and throwing his own attack into the mix. The Italian got a brief lead before first Schurter and then Kulhavy rejoined him. Schurter countered, and only Kulhavy was able to go with him with Fontana falling back to finish alone, with a broken saddle.
Fontana later admitted any other colour of medal would not have been deserved: "The two guys ahead of me have been going really fast all season. They were better than me so credit to them."
Kulhavy then attacked on the final long climb, but couldn't get by Schurter, so the pair entered the last loop to the finish together, looking to set up for a sprint.
Kulhavy had one more trick up his sleeve, and attacked on the final grade around a long curve, to head into the final descent and last two corners in the lead. The final straight was only 50 metres, so Kulhavy's lead around the last corner was enough to allow him to hold off Schurter at the line. Neither rider had the energy to put their arms in the air and just rolled a few metres before staggering off their bikes and laying down.
Kulhavy seemed stunned by his win, after struggling in the early part of the season.
"I am really happy, because last year was amazing, but I did everything for this race. I had to try to attack on the top of the course. I tried on the second hill before the finish, but we were still together. That last chicane was the last moment for an attack, and I was ready for it. It turned out to be the most important moment of the race."
A disappointed looking Schurter tried hard to put a positive spin on his runner-up place.
"It was a great race, my strategy quite good, I was attacking from the first lap, always riding in the first two positions. At 200 metres before the finish line, I almost thought I can win this race. At the second last corner Kulhavy just passed me and it's hard to close the race at that point."
"It was the perfect race, I have to be happy now with silver, Kulhavy was super-strong, he deserved it. The whole race has gone through my head and I analysed a lot of what was wrong and right, my goal was to run the perfect race and I would say it's one of my best performances and I just got beaten by a strong rider. I would say it was a big fight, a big show for our sport and now I have to be happy about my silver."
Men's Olympic Mountain Bike Race: 34.1 km (7 laps), Essex
1 Jaroslav Kulhavy (CZE) 1hr 29min 07sec
2 Nino Schurter (SWI) 0:00:01
3 Marco Fontana (ITA) 0:00:25
4 Jose Antonio Hermida (ESP) 0:00:29
5 Burry Stander (RSA) 0:00:30
6 Carlos Nicolas Coloma (ESP) 0:01:00
7 Manuel Fumic (GER) 0:01:24
8 Geoff Kabush (CAN) 0:01:36
9 Alexander Gehbauer (AUT) 0:02:09
10 Todd Wells (USA) 0:02:21
11 Stephane Tempier (FRA) 0:02:23
12 Jan Skarnitzl (CZE) 0:02:41
13 Gerhard Kerschbaumer (ITA) 0:02:55
14 Ondrej Cink (CZE) 0:03:09
15 Samuel Schulz (USA) 0:03:22
16 Marek Konwa (POL) 0:03:34
17 Rudi Van Houts (NED) 0:03:46
18 Ralph Naef (SWI) 0:03:51
19 Kevin Van Hoovels (BEL) 0:03:54
20 Karl Markt (AUT) 0:04:11
21 Daniel McConnell (AUS) 0:04:15
22 Sergio Mantecon (ESP) 0:04:39
23 David Rosa (POR) 0:04:43
24 Rubens Valeriano (BRA) 0:05:16
25 Florian Vogel (SWI) 0:05:29
26 Andres Soto (ARG) 0:06:06
27 Kohei Yamamoto (JPN) 0:06:19
28 Hector Paez Leon (COL) 0:06:55
29 Jean-Christophe Perraud (FRA) 0:08:00
30 Marc Bassingthwaighte (NAM) 0:08:10
31 Sergiy Rysenko (UKR) 0:08:25
32 Piotr Brzozka (POL) 0:09:30
33 Periklis Irias (GRE) 0:09:44
34 Moritz Milatz (GER) 0:09:52
35 Philip Buys (RSA) 0:11:04
36 Paolo Cesar Montoya (CRC) 0:12:12
37 Evgeniy Pechenin (RUS) 0:12:33
38 Chun Hing Chan (HKG) 0:12:52
39 Adrien Niyonshuti (RWA) 0:13:39
40 Marios Athanasiadis (CYP) 0:14:18
41 Weisong Tong (CHN) -1 Lap
42 Derek Horton (GUM) -1 Lap
DNF Sven Nys (BEL)
DNF Max Plaxton (CAN)
DNF Andras Parti (HUN)
DNF Julien Absalon (FRA)
DNF Liam Killeen (GBR)
DNS Robert Forstermann (GER)
DNS Michael Vingerling (NED)
DNS Sam Bewley (NZL)