Mountain Biking and BMX - Fast and Furious
Bradley who? Forget the Tour de France-that’s over now-and turn your attention to Hadleigh Farm and the BMX track at the Olympic park; because things are about to get hot and sweaty… and HOT! Mountain biking and BMX are set to continue their fledgling Olympic life times at the London Games this summer, and I for one am bloody excited.
Let’s start with the rough and ready mountain biking competition. First introduced at the Olympics in Atlanta 1996, this sport’s popularity has grown inexorably since its low-key beginnings in California in the 1970s, and is now a global powerhouse with more than its fair share of die-hard followers.
This summer’s action will unfold at the picturesque Hadleigh Farm in Essex, where the competition organisers have laid out a devilishly difficult 4.7km long course, with 172m of elevation change each lap. The terrain is suitably rocky and uneven, ensuring every rider will have to be at his or her best to vanquish the rest of the field and claim gold. Interestingly Hadleigh Farm is the only Olympic venue that will remain dry despite the weather, as organisers have ruled that no alcohol will be sold at the picturesque countryside retreat, much to the disappointment of the thousands of thirsty fans.
The basic rules
The men’s and women’s Mountain Bike competitions at London 2012 are what are known as ‘mass start’ events. This means that riders are seeded on a starting grid according to their world rankings, thus giving the gold medal favourite the best chance of winning top prize. However, with races designed to last a minimum of ninety minutes and unable to go beyond the one hour and forty-five minute mark, expect some tight finishes, especially when you consider the high percentage likelihood of punctured tyres and collisions along the way. At the end of the course (perhaps not surprisingly), the first rider to cross the line wins.
The current number one ranked male rider is Steffen Thum, a gritty twenty-eight year old biker from Germany, whilst in the women’s event Sabine Spetz (another German) will be hoping to defend her gold medal title from Beijing four years ago.
Making only its second ever Olympic Games appearance, BMX provides more of a thrill than breaking wind loudly on a packed commuter train. Taking inspiration from its motorised cousin motorcross, which rose to prominence in the 1960s, BMX hit the ground running state-side first before spreading into the global phenomenon that it is today, thanks in no small part to a couple of really sweet Play Station games.
Competing along a track that is 450m long for the men and 440m for the women, riders must overcome a series of challenging obstacles, jumps and corners tighter than George Osbourne in fewer than 45 seconds to have any hope of winning a medal. There are eight riders per race, with a series of chaff-separating heats and semi-finals before the final show down. To draw a loose athletics analogy, think of Mountain Biking as the marathon, and BMX as the 100m dash.
Strict law enforcement
The dangerous nature of the sport means that officialdom is at its sharpest and most pedantic when it comes to BMX. Race officials are constantly on the look out for infringements, such as contact between riders or obstruction, which can result in the issuing of several warnings ending in disqualification, or even instant relegation to last place irrespective of where the rider actually finishes.
Shanaze Reade, the daughter of a Jamaican father and an Irish mother, was hotly tipped for a gold medal with Team GB at Beijing in 2008 following success at the preceding World Championships, but then this happened:
Since then Reade has been world champion for three of the last four years, and she will be desperate to put the nightmare of Beijing to bed and add to her already impressive BMX CV.
Jargon busters: The official BMX London 2012 page provides a comprehensive glossary of key terms to aid the punter’s appreciation of the spectacle. Here are a few of them to get you started:
Berm – a banked corner
Bunny-hop – to lift both wheels off the ground at once
Gate – the start of the BMX Track
Holeshot – the first rider to take the lead after the start
Whoop – a small, wave-like bump in the track
Personally I’ll be pedalling down to The Harcourt in Marylebone to join London’s flourishing Swedish contingent to watch the action.
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