But there’s plenty of interest in both the women’s and men’s events for mountain bike fans. Familiar names in the men’s field include 4X World Cup stars Jared Graves (Aus), Roger Rinderknecht (Sui) and two-time World Champion Michal Prokop (Cze). Sadly the Czech rider didn’t qualify from his quarter-final, while the others progressed to their respective semis.
However, a name requiring little introduction leaps out from the list of female starters — Anne-Caroline Chausson, arguably the greatest mtb racer of all time. A holder of a record nine downhill rainbow jerseys, plus a further four 4X/dual slalom titles, Anne-Caro was the undisputed Queen of Dirt on the fat-tired scene for more than 15 years. Acknowledged as the most skilful all-round rider the sport’s ever witnessed, her supreme fitness and ongoing passion meant a switch back to BMX — a discipline where she had her roots — to challenge for Olympic gold was almost inevitable.
Somewht eclipsed by Reade recently, Chausson came to Beijing as second favourite. But even though Reade has won comfortably on this course before, many pundits claim it’s not necessarily suited to her powerful, bullying style and more likely to favour Chausson’s refined aggression. And that’s how it panned out in the qualifying rounds, with Chausson narrowly pipping Reade by two-tenths of second to claim the fastest time, with a large gap to the rest. A small mistake by the Crewe-bred youngster was enough to let her more experienced rival step into pole position. And it’s a slip that could prove very costly.
As we sit here at 7am local time, with the semi-finals due to start at 9am, there’s a typhoon ripping its way across the south coast of China and vertical sheets of rain rather than smog obscuring the view of Beijing’s skyline from the MPC (main Press Centre). The forecast isn’t good either, certainly for the next 24 hours, and we’ve just received word that the track has been fully covered and the event has been postponed until Friday at the earliest. Which effectively means that if conditions don’t improve dramatically, allowing sufficient time for the course to dry, then the competition could be abandoned and the medals awarded to the fastest qualifiers. Not the outcome anyone wants, least of all the competitors, but it’s seems almost typical of a Games that’s been providing unexpected twists and thrills but the bucketload.
• With the postponement of the BMX races, the women’s mtb race has now been moved to start at 10am local time on Friday (3am UK time), with the men’s race to follow at 3pm local time on the same day. If the poor weather continues, it will dramatically alter the nature of the Laoshan course and turn the ‘sketchy’ sections into little more than mud-slides. It’ll certainly throw the field wide open and don’t be surprised if the strongest ‘cross riders come to the fore. Fingers crossed for a 48-hour heatwave to ensue pronto!