At the moment, Nino’s Schurter’s two Olympic medals (one bronze from Beijing 2008, one silver from London 2012) are tucked away in a box at his home in Chur, Switzerland. But if all goes according to plan this coming Sunday at the Olympic cross-country race in Rio, Schurter says he just might fish them out and put them on display.
That plan, of course, is to first complete his collection by winning gold in Brazil. Schurter, 30, is the overwhelming favorite (1-to-1 according to the European bookmarkers), and comes into the race fresh off winning the fifth world championship title of his sparkling career. If he’s not the greatest XC mountain bike racer of all time, he’s at least a prominent part of the conversation. But to cement his legacy, Schurter needs to climb that final mountain that comes with being crowned Olympic champion.
Four years ago in London, he came oh so close, losing a finish line sprint to Czech rider Jaroslav Kulhavy by a single second. Once again Kulhavy and two-time Olympic gold medal winner Julien Absalon will likely provide Schurter his stiffest competition. He also needs to watch out for reigning world road champion Peter Sagan, who skipped the Olympic road race to take a stab at MTB gold. But it’s a challenge Schurter relishes.
“It’s the biggest event in our sport and it comes with a lot of pressure,” the long-time Scott Bikes sponsored rider told Mtbr. “But it’s something I have been thinking about and working toward for a long time.”
Scroll to 1:29:00 in the video below to see the dramatic finish of the 2012 London Olympics men’s cross-country race.
Schurter says his training was essentially the same as in a non-Olympic year, when the biggest race of the season (the world champs) is the first week of September.
“The biggest race is a couple weeks earlier, but that doesn’t change too much,” he said. “I’ve been trying to focus on quality and not making mistakes and not racing too much.”
Schurter also took a pass on the Opening Ceremonies, and instead arrived in Brazil two weeks before his big race, posting up about 90 minutes outside of Rio for one final preparatory camp. The goal was to get adjusted to the time change and acclimated to the climate, explained Schurter, who already has one win on the Rio Olympic course, after taking test event gold last October. “It was really important to see the track,” he added. “After that you are able to do hard training that resembles the same effort. It really helps your confidence.”
As for the weather, Schurter is not concerned. He likes racing in the heat. Sunday’s forecast calls for a high of 82, but also an 100-percent chance of rain.
The Swiss rider’s confidence will also be bolstered by his new-this-season race bike, a model year 2017 Scott Spark RC 29er. Prior to this season, Schurter had been a 27.5 devotee, but Scott tweaked the geometry on the latest iteration of its full suspension XC race bike (RC stands for racing concept), allowing Schurter to achieve his preferred ultra-slammed position.
“With the prior 29er the bars were too high. I like to be low,” he explained. “It puts my legs in the best angles. If I am too high I don’t feel right on the bike and feel like I lose some power. But now we have a new bike with better geometry and the boost standard, which makes the frame and wheels stiffer. That had also been a problem in the past. But not anymore. The course in Rio is very fast with logs and some other things that you need to roll over. This is also why I decided to change over to the 29er.”
Though he’ll bring both bikes, Schurter says he’ll almost certainly choose the Spark over the also revamped hardtail Scott Scale. In fact, he rarely races the hardtail anymore. “I think I used it at just one major race this year,” said Schurter. “The courses are getting more and more demanding, technical and bumpy. And the full suspension has gotten so much better. It has to be a really easy course with a lot of climbing for me to use the Scale.”
Schurter has also been impressed with the new Spark’s revised suspension design and geometry.
“The handling is much better with the new bike,” he said. “I like the shorter chainstays (435mm) and slacker head angle (68.5 degrees). It is also a much stiffer the frame. You can feel that when you climb. It makes you feel like when you climb with a hardtail, and that makes a big difference when racing.”
Obviously Schurter is biased. He’s essentially been on the Scott payroll for the last 15 years, and was heavily involved in the new bike’s development.
“I know all the engineers,” he said. “So I am able to give input and feedback on what I need to get faster, and they listen. It’s a great partnership.”
Biased or not, you cant argue with recent results. Schurter won his latest world title on the new Spark. Now he’ll look to add that final entry to his racing resume.
“Of course if I get any medal I will be happy,” he said. “But a gold will make me super happy.”
Says here Schurter will have a big grin on his face when racing on Sunday is done. But if it doesn’t play out that way, there is always Tokyo 2020. Schurter recently signed a new contract extension, meaning he’ll spend at least the next four years racing aboard a Scott bike.
Nino Schurter’s Scott Spark RC 900
- Frame: Scott Spark RC World Cup HMX SL
- Fork: DT Swiss OPM LTD Team Edition 100 ODL CT, 100mm travel
- Shock: DT Swiss R414 Trunnion, 100mm travel
- Headset: Ritchey Superlogic Team Edition
- Stem: Ritchey WCS C220° 25° Team Edition
- Handlebar: Ritchey Superlogic Carbon +/-5° rise 680mm 9° Team Edition
- Seatpost: Ritchey WCS Carbon Vector Team Edition
- Saddle: Ritchey WCS Vector Team Edition
- Grips: Ritchey WCS true grip Nano
- Pedals: Ritchey WCS V6
- Rear derailleur: Sram XX1 Eagle
- Shifter: SRAM XX1 Eagle
- Crankset: SRAM XX1 Eagle Boost 175mm Q-168mm 38t
- Chain: SRAM XX1 Eagle
- Cassette: SRAM XX1 Eagle 10-50
- Brakes: SRAM Level Ultimate
- Wheels: DT Swiss Spline XRC 1250 29
- Tires: Dugast Fastbird 50mm tubulars
- Bottle cage: Topeak shuttle cage carbon
- Computer: Garmin Edge 500