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28th Olympic Games - JO

Athens, Greece, August 14-28, 2004

Men's preview    Women's preview

Previewing the Mountain Bike course

By Rob Jones in Athens

The start/finish area
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With the women kicking off the Olympic mountain biking on Friday, we took the opportunity to have a look at the course on Thursday, a competition free day. We can report that it is very dusty and dry, with lots of loose, gravel sections. Not too much cover from the sun, especially after the fire, which took out a significant portion of the tree-covered section of the course. It is very hot, especially during the 11:00 to 1:00 time frame when the races will take place. Today it was at least 36C, and probably hotter on the open sections of the climbs.

Course description

From the start the riders will do a start loop that will take about 8 minutes and climbs up an access road before looping back through the start-finish to spread out the field. From there the riders head out on the six kilometre circuit. There are two loops that bring the riders back into the start-finish area twice per lap. Each has a climb and a descent.

The start loop
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The circuit begins by cutting across the burned out section, which the organizers are busy bulldozing and cutting down brush to clean things up, and goes through a technical rocky section, probably the most technical part of the circuit. From there they traverse the side of the hill along the edge of the burned section to the first climb. This follows along the edge of a rock face, dipping in and out of singletrack, with only a short portion of the climb on a fire road where passing can take place.

At the top of this climb (the harder of the two), the riders immediately drop into the longest downhill of the course at approximately 600 metres. This is where Swiss rider Petra Heinz crashed and broke her ankle today. The ground is very loose small gravel - the downhill is not particularly technical, but if the riders are not careful they can easily wash out a wheel, as Heinz did.

Once they reach the bottom, they have finished the first loop and do a traverse across in front of the start-finish. This section seems to have been designed by a downhill/4-Cross aficionado, with berms, a double bump and a tabletop! After complaints from riders about launching into the air, apparently the size of the bumps was toned down.

The start of the climb
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From here the race heads out onto the second loop. There is a long gradual climb to start, with the only sustained section of passing. At the top, there is a tough little bit with probably the only portion that will force most riders to dismount; at the top of the climb they go over a drop down a chute, with an abrupt 90 degree turn to the left at the bottom leading into an immediate steep, rocky climb. In training, we saw only Miguel Martinez and Liam Killeen clear it (admittedly, we didn't stay to watch everyone). Alison Sydor, one of the best technical riders on the circuit said that she could only make it about halfway up, and, as far as she knew, none of the women could ride it. She also said that it was just quicker to get to the bottom, hop off your bike and run to the top. It could be a bottleneck if some riders decide to try and ride it and get stuck.

At this point the riders are about three-quarters of the way through a lap. They have a traverse along the side of the mountain before gradually dropping through a series of turns and singletrack and heading into the start-finish.

We do not have official word on distance, but the test event in the spring was 5 laps for women (plus the start loop), so it is hard to see it being less. This would likely make the men's race seven laps and a start loop.


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