August 12, 2012
After a couple of solid years of work on the course, many millions of pounds and thousands of hours of work by the course designers, trail teams, course markers and volunteer marshals, the mountain bike event of the Olympics came together perfectly. The course was fast and very hard (on bikes and people) and the 20,000 fans loved every minute – cheering everyone from Britain’s Liam Killeen to Rwanda’s Adrien Niyonshuti and crowd favourite (and Brighton Big Dog competitor) ‘Derek from Guam’.
If there were any behind the scenes hitches, we didn’t see any. Even the weather played ball, with temperatures in the high 20s, a nice breeze and glorious sunshine.
There were a few riders out on the course doing a few last minute runs this morning. Liam Killeen was one of them. Unfortunately he crashed after a couple of laps and broke his ankle – right about where this photo was taken. Despite losing our sole racer, the crowds carried on cheering everyone. Another early bath went to my pre-race pick of Absalon. He seemed to have an issue with his bike and was back in the 20s after just a lap, he (or his bike) didn’t seem to recover from that and he eventually pulled out.
After a couple of laps there was a clear leading trio of Schurter, Kulhavy and Fontana. Jose Hermida and Burry Stander briefly made it over the gap but were soon back to chasing again as the pace stayed high and they remained a tantalising 30 seconds back, just in sight of the leaders, but never quite close enough to close the gap again.
So after seven laps of cat and mouse, it came down to the final couple of corners. Kulhavy and Schurter had both tried attacking from the front, Fontana had been happy to sit in third. It seemed that Kulhavy didn’t want a sprint finish as Schurter seems the stronger rider if it came down to that. But it did come down to that. Kulhavy just managed to keep Schurter at bay at the top of the final climb and made it round the last two corners just ahead, to the delight of the crowd. Fontana meanwhile had a bizarre mechanical on the final rock-garden descent where his seat post appeared to shear off and he was forced to do the final switchback climb and the climb up to the arena standing up out of the (non) saddle. Hermida and Stander were starting to reel him in, but he stayed away for a Bronze medal.
After the race many of the athletes were still around and we saw a lot of riders posing for photos with fans and friends.
So there it is. The mountain bike Olympics came to Essex. Racers raced and crowds cheered. If you were at the event, then you’ll know what a great, great spectacle it was and what a wonderful atmosphere there was at Hadleigh Farm. You’ll also know how tough the course was in person. If you watched it on TV and reckon it all looked a bit easy, then we’re looking forward to watching you ride it when the course hopefully opens to the public in a year or so’s time. (We’ll run a story on those developments later in the week.)
Until next time, thanks for all of the comments, Tweets and cheers, thanks to the thousands of volunteers (especially the mountain biking ones we met at the venue) and thanks to all the riders, the weather and the crowds for making it an unforgettable event.