One person’s luck is another’s misfortune… A friend of mine found out his non cycling mates had organised his stag weekend to coincide with the Olympic mountain biking, the one event he was desperate to see. So whilst he was drinking in Scotland, I happily headed out to Hadleigh Farm to catch the action in the men’s race. I have been completely in the grip of Olympic fever and despite only having volleyball tickets when the games started, managed to get tickets through friends and contacts to see basketball, water polo, triathlon, equestrian, two hockey games (including the women’s final) and wrapped it all up with mountain biking which was a front runner for being my favourite event. How many days till Rio starts?!
The weather was perfect, the 4.7km course loop was super challenging and the crowd was in a great mood and cheering all of the riders. Though there was no doubt the majority were there to support Liam Killeen, the one and only Team GB rider. The roar of the crowd when Liam was introduced on the start line was one of those where you can feel it vibrating in your bones. 20,000 spectators were at the farm and due the nature of the course there was plenty of opportunity to get up close to the track and see the riders.
Unfortunately Liam’s race ended early when he suffered a terrible crash at the bottom of Deane’s Drop on only the second of seven laps. I was there watching the race from the side of Deane’s Drop and saw him go down after sliding out at the bottom of the descent and crashing into the rocks. The collective gasp from the crowd and the fact he didn’t immediately get up, signalled it was serious. Medical attention was with him quickly but due to the nature of his injuries he couldn’t be moved off the course for some time. Riders were flying down the descent and through the corner, closeby to where he was lying on the ground. Eventually he was moved onto a stretcher and into a field ambulance to bump his way back to race HQ. I have since read he has a broken ankle that required surgery and he will be off the bike for 12-18 weeks. Not the way a three time Olympian, or anyone for that matter, wants their home race to end.
The action on the field continued and even to my untrained eye I could see the huge difference in terms of skill to the guys at the front of the race and those at the back. A simple one was that the front guys were not getting of their bikes on the big rocky sections and just hammering through, further opening up the gaps. There was a clear group of five at the front of the field including eventual winner Jaroslav Kulhavy of the Czech Republic, Nino Schurter of Switzerland who took silver, Marco Aurelio Fontana of Italy in bronze position, Burry Stander of South Africa and the Spaniard Jose Antonio Hermida. With two laps to go the pace proved too much for the Spaniard and South African which left it to the front three to fight out the medals.
We walked the course, getting to see the race from different angles to appreciate how steep the course was. I probably owe Australia’s Dan McConnell an apology for screaming so loudly in his ear whilst taking this picture.
I was so impressed with the thought and effort that had gone into the course and the way the cameras had been set up to bring all the action back to those watching at home and on the giant screens around the course. This camera here tracked the riders as they came down through ‘The Rock Garden’, giving you a close up of how big the rocks were and the technical skill required to navigate them quickly and safely.
We got ourselves in front of one of the giant screens near the finish to watch the final half lap and the battle going on for gold and silver between Schurter and Kulhavy and what a battle it was! Kulhavy was sitting behind Schurter, biding his time before taking the inside line on one of the final corners and blasting his way home in a sprint finish. Unlike the women’s race (where bikes were hefted overhead by the winner at the finish), the boys literally fell off their bikes into the dirt, utterly exhausted. Fontana came over the line 25 seconds later having lost contact with the leading two on the final lap after his seat post broke and he lost his seat! Fonatana was attacking and applying the pressure to the other two riders and going well but as with the nature of mountain biking, there are so many things that can, and will, go wrong.
As with all of the Olympic events I attended, the Games Makers were amazing and really helped make the events so much fun. Leaving Hadleigh Farm, a line of 15 Games Makers were entertaining the crowd by doing the ‘Bolt’ and the ‘Mobot’, joking and playing with the crowd. Certainly makes waiting for a bus a lot less tedious! Thanks to all of those who gave up their time to help make the Olympics so great.
So, the Olympics are over for another four years and I’m already thinking about how I am going to get to Rio and what I want to see. Perhaps I better think more short term and focus on the 70.3 Ironman World Championships in Las Vegas in less than four weeks. I have found that Olympics are not good for my training so it will be a busy week… before the Vuelta starts this weekend!