Top Riders Turn Out For Olympic Course Test Event

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It’s fair to say that the Olympic mountain bike venue and the race course itself haven’t had the warmest of receptions on the Singletrack forum with arguments and comments ranging from “it’s not technical” to “it’s not Dalby/Fort William/Glentress”. But how would it actually hold up in practice?

Gotta have rules...


Catherine Pendrel, the women's race winner out in front.


Nearly 5000 spectators were said to have been there


One of the many rock features (and probably one of the things that would have to be removed before the general public were ever allowed near the course after the Games.


Test events are held for each of the Olympic disciplines to trial everything from the venue to the infrastructure and ensure that things are up to scratch before it goes out on live TV to a billion people across the globe. Hadleigh Farm, out near Canvey Island, Essex is the venue for the 2012 MTB racing and on July 31st, the world’s best racers, many of whom would be competing in 2012, along with 5000 spectators got their first taste of a full-on race there. Everything from the Park & Ride facilities, the miles of temporary steel trackway laid to get vehicles to the venue, the racing, the course and the general event logistics were under scrutiny on this roughly 1/5th scale event. Summer had finally come to Essex and it was a blazing hot day as 5000 spectators wended their way from Park & Ride to the buses to the venue and into the arena itself, all efficiently directed by what seemed like hundreds of marshals.

The courses itself has to comply with strict rules from both the UCI and the IOC about length, amount of climbing per lap, number of technical features, amount of singletrack, doubletrack and “open” terrain while still catering to the needs of the media and spectators. In this respect, the course is fantastic, set in a natural amphitheatre with views over two-thirds of the course from a single viewpoint and the whole place accessible with just a few hundred metres of walking required. Even the views over the Thames Estuary and the ruined Hadleigh Castle aren’t bad, even if they don’t live up to the optimistic “breathtaking” adjective given to them by Essex Tourist Board!

Yep, there's a gap jump. It's been reduced from its original 2m+ size to a more modest gap. Few Brits rode it though.


Who said XC racers can't ride? Absalon showing mastery of all aspects of the bike.


Taking the longer, safer (and slower) line.


The pits were kept busy with a large number of pinch-flats. Not surprising.


The glorious Essex coastline


Still, this is the first time there’s been any proper racing on it and, with riders underway, the whole course and atmosphere changed. Seeing the change from the initial fairly sterile images of an empty course, brand new with no weathering in or greenery to a hillside crowded with spectators, riders thrashing round with dust flying was incredible. The riders themselves were having a hard time of it, the heat, the unrelenting toughness of the course, the sheer speed of it was really telling and there were plenty of pain-etched faces. Even one small fatigue induced error on the technical sections could be costly as Welsh National Champion Lee Williams found out, going down hard on the descent of Deane’s Drop although he recovered to claim 20th place as the highest GB finisher.

What was more interesting was seeing how the athletes coped with it in terms of using it as a test for the real thing in a year’s time. There was a roughly 50:50 split of 26er and 29ers with the vast majority of women using hardtails. The Men’s race had a slightly higher percentage of full suspension bikes in the field and almost everyone was running 2×10 although the convincing winner of the Men’s race, double Olympic Champion Julian Absalon was running a 1×10 setup. You’ve never seen such a gathering of Shimano XTR and SRAM XX!

Absalon again on the hardest of the three rock lines. This one you CAN'T roll and has to be taken with a bit of oomph.


Absalon was so far ahead of the field that he was told to slow down a little as too many slower racers were having to be pulled out before they got lapped.


Take the rocks? Or the wiggly, windy slow way?


So where do things go from here? Well the course is once again shut down while final repairs and some minor alterations are made to the course and the rest of the event infrastructure is brought in. But from what we’ve seen here, 2012 should provide a top-notch mountain bike race on a well thought out course and hopefully (on-going legal wrangles notwithstanding), there should be a great post-event MTB facility in place in Essex too.


Thanks to Crazylegs for the report and photos.

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Comments (20)

    Looks like a Bike Race is going to be happening at the Olympics at least 😉

    A very positive report, I hope its eased peoples fears that it isn’t a good enough course.

    it just looks too man made!

    still say it should of been Dalby.
    I know that’s man made, but it feels that bit more closed in with natural feel!

    Really gutted I didn’t ‘win’ the chance to buy a ticket in the lottery that they called ticket allocation.

    “One of the many rock features (and probably one of the things that would have to be removed before the general public were ever allowed near the course after the Games.

    really? what a waste

    I went to the World Cup round at Dalby, you see bikes fly past every so often. I was also at Hadleigh and you can see bikes actually racing. Surely that is what an event like the Olypmics is about?

    Really looking forward to it!

    Few Brits rode it though

    Apart from Kenta who whips the bike over it !

    Looks incredible.

    “The pits were kept busy with a large number of pinch-flats”

    So why don’t the pros all ride tubeless? Or is there less of an advantage for XC?

    Great report there, James – and the course looks much tougher than I was expecting.

    Bit irked to see JA so far ahead though… c’mon you Brits!

    Maybe the Pro’s run very light specials that even though tubeless still pinch flat? Or if you’re half a lap from the pits it’s quicker to stick a tube in a standard tyre rather than run to the pits or bugger around with a tubeless setup?

    Excellent report. It was a great day out. Would love to go back after the Olympics and have a go. A real bonus to find much of the course accessible for spectating. Well done Lee Williams for getting back on and finishing – it looked spectacular, but oh so painful!

    Congratulations to the winners and all other riders for putting on a great show. Oh, and to Martyn Ashton and Blake Samson for showing off! A nice little sideshow.

    What are the rules in XC regarding tape? Last pic you could go straight down the grass to the left and dodge both options.

    There were lots of fluffy stalks of fluoro markers stuck to the rocks themselves as course markers. I guess they’re trying to work out a way of keeping the course marked without having to double-tape the whole way round.

    Covering Dalby with TV cameras would take about 25 or more cameras, at Hadleigh, I can see it needing ten. Much easier to follow the action.

    As for ‘dumbing-down’ the features before letting the public on it, I think several of the technical sections really are beyond the reach of Sunday riders and will need some form of tempering before they open the course to us lot after the Games. We’ll see though – there are certainly open-to-the-public facilities like Laggan and Dalby with super tech features…

    MTB course widely slated because a few people watched a couple of 2-Dimensional online videos and thought “that looks easy” turns out to be quite good in the end! Shocker! Nice to see a couple of off-roadies with actual MTB skills too… 🙂 People forget that Olympic events like these are more like Eurovision. Its a spectacle more than a representation of the sport, like Olympics football.

    Looks great, still hoping against hope that we’ll be able to get tickets and see the racing for real! Thanks for the article.

    Im now quite looking forward to it. Glad its turning out to be better than we all feared.

    What are the rules in XC regarding tape? Last pic you could go straight down the grass to the left and dodge both options.

    The tape is there to keep spectators off the actual course. The riding lines were marked by various coloured markers (they were testing those too to see which colours and styles of marker worked best). Riding outside of those markers got you DQ’d (and this happened to at least one rider). So taking the grass isn’t an option. Sorry. 😉

    I went to the event and the course is fantastic; I even had the opportunity to chat to JulianAbsolan and Christoph Sauser after the event. As I live localish I hope it does remain post olympics as it would be great to ride regularly, but I hope they don’t ‘dumb it down’ too much. What’s wrong with having a black technical section with an easier option!

    Makes sense now on the line marking – thanks for clearing it up as I had a hell of a cheat line in mind! 😀

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