For the world’s best mountain bikers, the only way will be Essex on August 11/12 as the Olympic cross-country event comes to Hadleigh Farm on the Thames estuary. And what a race it promises to be, with the field wide open in both the men’s and women’s events.
Competition has been fierce in the lead up to the Olympics, with many riders battling for one of the few coveted places on the start line right up until the end of May.
Swiss rider Nino Schurter, bronze medallist at the last Games in Beijing, comes to London as the hot favourite, but he will have to be at the peak of his form to beat double Olympic champion, Frenchman Julien Absalon. Both riders have won two World Cup events so far this season, and there is no doubt these two will be right at the front of the race battling it out for Olympic glory come August.
Canadian Catharine Pendrel won the test race at Hadleigh Farm last year, and she comes into the women’s race on August 11 with plenty of form from the World Cup. But her challengers are many and potent, particularly French rider Julie Bresset and 2004 Olympic champion, the evergreen Gunn-Rita Dahle Fleesja. Britain also has a medal hope in the shape of 21-year old Annie Last.
With a lack of mountainous terrain to call on, the Essex course designers had to get creative, but what they’ve ended up with is a tortuous track of multiple short, sharp climbs and visually spectacular rock gardens. Average speed over the one and a half hour event will be high – around 13mph – so it is likely that groups will form early on, and riders will seek shelter from the wind by drafting. Multiple line choices through certain sections give the opportunity for overtaking, but the result may well come down to a sprint finish or a last lap attack.
Whatever happens, whether you’re lucky enough to have tickets for the live event, or will simply be watching it on televison, both races are sure to be spectacular. As they like to say in Essex, it’ll be reem.
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Need to Know
- Racers are not allowed to obstruct other riders and prevent them from overtaking. Sharpened elbows not permitted!
- Bar ends are allowed, but riders can’t use road bike bars or aero extensions.
- Radio communication is banned.
- Race duration is governed by time, not distance. It must be between 1hr 30mins and 1hr 45mins for both men and women.
- Fresh bottles and food/energy gels can only be given to the riders in specified zones. Mechanical support is also permitted within the designated areas, as long as the frame isn’t changed. Most mechanical support consists of wheel changes in the event of a puncture.
- There will be a vast array of different bikes in use at the Olympic Games. Most riders will be on hardtails, although there will almost certainly be a smattering of full-suspension bikes. Wheel size is perhaps the most divisive issue. Many riders will be on 29ers but there will also be plenty of traditional 26in wheelers. Splitting hairs will be those aboard 27.5in (650b) wheel machines, but when they include hot favourite Nino Schurter they’re sure to get plenty of attention.