The former mountain bike performance manger for British Cycling is hoping Liam Killeen gets off to a good start with a crash on the first lap:
“In the men’s race I can’t see any dark horses sneaking in there, it’s going to be one of the big three — Julian Absalon is going to be pretty hard to beat, I can’t see a weakness. He’s the guy that can prepare for it best and he’s just not slowing down. Nino Schurter has given him a hard time in the last couple of years so if Absalon can be beaten, he’s the one to do it.
If Liam Killeen can get top-10, that will be a good ride; he won’t be battling for a medal though. He’s like nobody else; no one else races like him or thinks like him. He’s an enigma. He almost needs to fall off on the start loop — honestly! It happened in Athens, and in Beijing and it’s almost like a release of pressure for him. Something happens and then he realises all he can do is move forwards. He doesn’t like being passed, he likes passing.
It’s probably a couple of years too early for Annie Last to be fighting for a medal. Top-10 would be a great ride and would set her up nicely. The people she’s racing against have just got more experience in that kind of situation. The Olympics isn’t like anything else and it’s how she deals with everything around the race — the media, home country games — that counts. You almost need to do an Olympics to find that stuff out before you can clear your head and get a medal.
On the day it’s not down to form from the rest of the year, it’s just about that day and how you deal with it all. It’s how you feel on the bus going from the Olympic village to the race, it’s how you feel when you warm up, all the stupid little stuff. When you’ve got 3,000 people there supporting you, it can either really motivate you or really harm you. It’s not about how good the legs are. You can’t prepare for it, you don’t know until you’re there how it’s going to be because it’s so different from any other race; it’s unique.”
Multiple National XC winner and former Olympian tells us his top tip and what it’s like to race on a stomach full of goat vindaloo:
“For a youngster, Nino Schurter rides like a Frischni [Thomas Frischknecht]. He seems to have got from Thomas the ability to ride very cleverly. There’s no doubt there’s going to be a battle between Nino and Julien Absalon.
If I was putting money down on someone performing for Great Britain, Liam is definitely the guy. It’s almost like you need to kick Liam in the nuts, take his bike off him, throw it down the banking and then put him 20 seconds in front of everybody and he’ll probably win it. Something has to agitate him. For once, wouldn’t it be great to see Liam pull a ride out of the bag for everybody?
Annie Last has got to aim for a podium; she’s a fantastic talent and probably the best thing coming out of mountain biking in Britain. I just hope they can let her go and enjoy it, get in there and give it everything. The crowd will be incredible and she’ll love the technical side of it… if there isn’t too much pressure on her, she’s only young. She’s an outsider for top five.”
“The truth is, Oli Beckingsale and I knew we weren’t going for a medal in Sydney. That’s a fact. So we prepared the best we could and we had a good time. As soon as we’d done the race we hit the Olympic village, stayed out all night, got back at 7am, shopped all the next day and had an absolute riot. It was fantastic.
I was then asked to ride the road race on the Wednesday, to ride the first hour — I can do that on a cup of coffee and a few hours’ sleep. So I behaved, rested and slept. I had a goat vindaloo on Tuesday night, got up at 6am, had coffee and rode the race. Rob Hayles was to take over for the second hour, he came past and rode straight into the barrier and I took over again for the second hour and rode 170km. That added to the whole experience.”
Former GB rider at the Commonwealth Games and multiple National winner, Jenny tips Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå for gold:
“There are a lot of potential winners, it’s not clear cut this time round — the order in the first three round of the World Cup has been all over the place so it’s a though one to call. But the more people in a race that believe they can win, the more exciting it is because they have that extra confidence.
In the women’s you have a whole host of riders putting in good rides, like Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjå who did that stunning ride at La Bresse in May — she’ll have a lot of people rooting for her because she’s so popular. She’s said she isn’t targeting the Olympics, but now she’s done that ride [La Bresse] you know she has the form. And tactically she’s the rider most likely to pull it off because she has so much experience to draw on. I’d love to see her do it again because she has been the world’s best mountain bike racer ever over the years.
And of course you have Annie, who is everybody’s favourite for a medal. I don’t think it would be fair or realistic to suggest she’s going to win it, but if she has her very best day every kind of support she can, possibly a top five or a medal. It’s not unrealistic but it’s going to be a big ask because it will be her first Olympics. She’s got the home crowd which is a good thing but also an extra pressure. The thing for her is just to go out and enjoy herself — a top-10 would be a great achievement. Technically she’s as good as anyone, if not better, and the shorter race distance will help the younger riders.”
The former British number one and Olympic veteran reveals the highs and lows of top competition:
“The obvious contenders are the guys that have won World Cups this year. So Nino Schurter and Julien Absalon. That’s a no-brainer really. But then you’ve got Jaroslav Kulhavy, the world champ — he looks like he has taken it steady earlier in the year, while Nino came out absolutely flying. It’s quite a long time to hold your form, and Jaroslav looks like he’s been holding back. You’re always better off having one peak rather than trying to hold it. Absalon has had a tough patch these last few years, he did didn’t win a Worlds and he was used to winning everything. It would be nice to see him win three in a row, it would be pretty special and I’d like to see him win.
I’ll tell you who’s an outside bet as well — the Italian, Marco Fontana. He’s good for a medal, I think the circuit is good for him. The climbs are bursts and he’s so fast in the technical stuff.”
“I have really happy memories from Sydney in 2000. That was the most exciting race I’ve ever done. I never expected to go, I was only 24 and competing against established pros like Barrie Clarke and Nick Craig. We went into qualification and I wasn’t even thinking about the Olympics, it was just one of those things I’d never even dreamt of.
And also, back then there was a lot less pressure. The Lottery had just kicked in and British sport, British cycling wasn’t that successful — in Sydney the whole country would win eight medals. So it was more a case of ‘do your best’. Fast forward to Beijing and cycling won 12 medals, eight of them gold. So we rocked up as mountain bikers and it was now a case of ‘if you don’t win a medal you’re a failure’. That wasn’t just a feeling — that’s how it was.
Sydney was just great fun, I was there with my friend Nick Craig too. We had a great time after the event as well, more of a fun atmosphere — but Beijing was really stressful.”