At a little over 4.5km in length and an elevation that could hardly be described as alpine in prorportion, many feared that this established XC course would be a bit on the easy side for the world’s top pro riders. Only a few had visited before for last year’s ‘test event’, while most were riding it for the first time. But for a little fella, it’s certainly packs a punch.
It’s basically built on a wooded hillside behind the velodrome and runs from a starting point in the west to the highest point in the east and back again. The first third of the course is certainly the least inspiring — a mix of short, sharp gravelly climbs that the pros will bash out in the big ring, undulating jeep-track, and hard-baked singletrack through the trees. This section will be hard and fast as riders will be battling for position here heading into the remaining two-thirds of the circuit. The majority of this is singletrack, with plenty of loose ascents, including one thigh-burning switchback medley, a handful of specially-built rock gardens and a fair selection of chutes, drop-offs and steps that’s sure to have the less-skilled riders sweating in the heat of battle. Expect some tumbles throughout as this ranks as one of the more ‘technical’ of XC courses that many will have ridden. Like a tough UK trail centre, with the temperate feel of a Kiwi rainforest, it punches above it weight and makes the most of its limited resources.
And like pretty much every sporting venue in Beijing, there’ll be no missing any of the action. Never before have so many cameras been sited on an XC course, it’s like a showcase for the country’s emerging technology industry. If you’ve seen any of the athletics’ coverage from the Bird’s Nest stadium you won’t have failed to notice the array of cable cams zipping across the sky, so it’s no surprise that they’ve rigged one up across the woods of Laoshan. What’s more they’ve even put a massive ‘track cam’ into one of the most densely wooded parts of the course — like the one that runs alongside the final straight on the athletics track — so you’ll be able to follow riders along a sketchy 30-metre descent.
The organisers have thought of everything. There’s markers every hundred metres along the course, but not simple daubings on trees, no these are like mini trig pillars. Each manned by a couple of smiling stewards; there’s something like 70,000 of these blue-shirted volunteers for the Games. In fact when the London 2012 team starts looking at the main issues they face over the next four years, high on their list of concerns, along with the construction, transport and security fears should be the question of where in the UK they hope to find tens of thousands of smiling, multi-lingual teenagers willing to work long hours for a free t-shirt and a cup of water.