HADLEIGH, england — Todd Wells was right there Saturday with the rest of Colorado's mountain biking fans. He saw it and got inspiration from it.
He stood and cheered for Georgia Gould, his fellow Coloradoan from Fort Collins, who stood at the podium with her Olympic bronze medal, only the United States' second in history.
The American and Colorado ties weren't enough to inspire him to his first Olympic medal Sunday but it was enough for his best showing in his third Olympics. On the last day of the Olympic Games, Durango's star mountain biker pushed hard to get a 10th place finish.
Czech Republic's Jaroslav Kulhavy, the defending world champion, passed Switzerland's top-ranked Nino Schurter, the bronze medalist in Beijing, on the last hill to win the 20.4-mile course in 1:29.07, one second ahead of Schurter. Italy's Marco Fontana, 25 seconds behind Kulhavy, won the bronze. France's Julien Absalon, the two-time defending champion, suffered a flat on the first lap and didn't finish.
Wells, who finished 2:21 behind Kulhavy, held off France's Stephane Tempier on the last hill of the last of seven laps. That won't make many headlines around the world but will be something he'll remember forever.
"Everybody comes here looking for a medal and watching Georgia get one (Saturday) was pretty inspiring," Wells said. "I gave it my best out there. It wasn't good enough for a medal but a personal best."
The result was an improvement on his 19th place finish in Athens (2004) and his 43rd place finish in Beijing (2008), where conditions were roughly equivalent to the inside of an oven. The weather Sunday was much more favorable, sunny and about 75 degrees with a built-in air-conditioning unit courtesy of the nearby North Sea.
It was perfect for a Colorado mountain biker, similar to the weather Gould raced in Saturday. Also similar to Gould was his wretched start. Chaos at the front of the group of 50 riders caused Wells, starting in the second row, to fall back to 17th place on lap one.
"I lucked out into a front-row start just the way I snuck up there but it was pretty dicey around these corners," Wells said. "We took about 10 pedals and started making a left-hand turn on a loose-gravel road with about 50 guys. It doesn't get much sketchier than that and I was pretty happy to stay upright coming out of it."
Gould recovered from her awful start to stick with a lead group of nine which later tapered to three. Taking inspiration from Gould, Wells tried to do the same.
He didn't quite make it.
"I started to move up in the middle of the race," he said. "I thought I was going to be able to get to the front. We were in the second chase group for a while. I bridged up to that, felt strong, started to go across and I just kind of ran out of juice."
At 36, Wells was the second oldest rider in the field next Guam's 39-year-old Derek Horton. But Wells has had a decent season. He won the Pan American championship for the second time and took fourth in a World Cup in Windham, N.Y. He finished seventh in last year's World Championship.
He came in with darkhorse status.
"I had a great race at the Windham World Cup so I was hoping for a little bit higher," Wells said. "But I'll take it. I gave it my all. I never thought I'd go to one Olympics. This is my third and I've improved over my previous results."
Kulhavy and Schurter traded leads for most of the race with Fontana never far behind. But on the final climb, Kulhavy passed Schurter on the inside and sprinted downhill for the gold.
"This is the most special day in the sport for me," Kulhavy said. "It was easy for the first half of the race but the finish was pretty hard and Nino was very strong so it was a big fight."
Absalon led from the outset but suffered a flat tire early, fell too far behind and quit."After being an Olympic champion," he said, "there was no point in fighting for a 10th place finish."
But, as Wells said, he'll take it.