The professional world of road racing and the hermetically sealed environment that is the track are behind us and we can now turn our attention to a much more pure form of cycling.
No domestiques, no team cars, no trackstanding before a tactical sprint, NONE OF THAT CRAP. Whoever walks away with the gold medal in this weekend’s cross country mountain bike events will have earned it. Need a water bottle? Get your own. Get a flat or snap a chain? Fix it yourself! If it rains, you’ll get wet, and muddy.
Both the Mens and Womens’ races will be held at Hadleigh Farm, a brand new facility built specifically for the Olympics. The 4.7km course has many short climbs for a total 172m of climbing each lap. The descents are punctuated by a number of rock gardens of varying difficulty and there is even some north shore sections thrown in. Details are hard to come by but it seems the men will tackle 8 laps of the course and the women a bit less.
10:30pm (AEST) on Sunday night.
The world’s number 1 ranked cross-country racer is Swiss Nino Schurter, who has already wrapped up his second world cup this year by winning won 4 of the 7 events, and holds one world championship title.
Veteran Frenchman Julien Absalon has won gold at the last 2 Olympic games and will be looking for a hat-trick in London. His illustrious career has netted him 4 World Championships and 5 World Cups.
Last year Jarolslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic won nearly everything he entered winning 5 of 7 world cup events, the overall title and the world championship. This year has seen him come back to the field somewhat but he still came away with two 2nds, a 3rd and 2nd in the overall rankings.
It’s my bet that the winner will come from one of those 3, but in a one day race against the best in the world on an exposed course with Olympic bragging rights up for grabs anything could happen.
Others to watch include current Cape Epic champion and former u23 World Champion Burry Stander (RSA), former world champion and 2004 silver medalist Jose Antonio Hermida (Spain) and Italian national champion Marco Fontana. These riders have all been in the mix throughout this year’s world.
A former World Cup Champion before he earnt the nickname “cuddles”[/caption]Victorian (we’ll forgive him) Dan MacConell will be aiming for a top ten finish after a strong world cup campaign that saw him finish 27th overall and in the top 25 three times he is in with a real chance. This’ll be Dan’s second Olympics having raced at Beijing in 2008.
The sole British rider Liam Killeen is ranked 35th in the world and managed to finish in the top 30 in 5 world cup races this year.
9:30pm (AEST) on Saturday night.
In the women’s race Canadian Catharine Pendrel has had a season, winning 4 world cup races as well as the overall title. She is also the current world champion. My money’s on her to continue her domination this season.
Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa of Norway will also be in contention. A 4 time world champion and 2004 gold medallist, Gunn-Rita has won 2 world cup races this year. Like Absalon, naysayers will point out neither has won a world championship for a number of years but it is hard to discount the wealth of big race experience they have.
Czech Katerina Nash took out 2nd place in two events this year and rode consistently enough to end the season in 3rd place. She has competed in two winter Olympics!
The unfortunately named British hopeful Annie Last comes into this event fresh off a 3rd placing in the recent world cup event at Val d’Isere. Will last draw enough inspiration from the home crowd to bring an upset?
Bec Henderson has been tearing it up this year on the world cup circuit in the under 23′s but did enough throughout the year to secure her place in the green and gold for London. One to watch for the future.