Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Olympic Mountain-Biking!

Once I worked out that I wasn't going to be in Prague during the event, I was well pleased to snaffle the spare ticket that John & Anna had for the women's XC mountain-biking at the London 2012 Olympics. The last two weeks have been fantastic to be in the country & be both British & Kiwi, as both countries have done well. Much to most of the country's amazement, the games have been spectacular and very well embraced - it sure has been a great change from the usual moaning, cynicism and football (soccer) coverage.

I set off from Trish's bright & early to meet Anna, John & Richard at Fenchurch St station - it had dawned a lovely day & the stroll across the Thames showed Tower Bridge sporting its recent addition.

The station & train was not nearly as busy as expected & about an hour later we were walking the forty minutes from Leigh-on-Sea towards Hadleigh Farm (there was a free shuttle bus, but we preferred & had the time to walk). The enthusiasm & outgoing-ness of all the volunteers has been noted by many people - & all the volunteers we encountered lived up to this reputation, they were great. Before long we were in a sizeable, but fast-moving queue as we quickly made our way through security.

We got our first glimpse of the course. It was surprisingly open & easy to spy a few of the features - particularly the rock garden to the south (left in the picture below).
The Start/Finish area (bottom right below) was well groomed sitting below all the flags of the participants' respective countries.  I imagine that first climb was brutal enough after a few fast-paced laps to warrant using the switchbacks on the left.

With plenty of time until the 12.30 start, we leisurely checked out various features of the course.  A few of the trickier parts had chicken runs (the easier route on the right below), but I was impressed that I never saw any of the racers take that option - although I wasn't everywhere, so may have missed such happenings elsewhere.

This was the bottom of the appropriately named Snake Hill (all the features were named by local school children apparently) - a series of switchbacks up a hill that was quite steep to walk straight up.  We ended up spending quite a few laps near the top of this climb as it provided a variety of good viewing options - Anna even managed to get a camp seat to sit on from some kind lady.

The view below looks back over a lot of the course to the Start/Finish area from the Rock Garden.  So we could still follow the race progress from afar - with the help of the PA of course.

Parts of the course were quite skinny & weren't ever going to be any good for passing - but there were plenty of other places for passing.

The bottom of the Rock Garden was our first spot, we lunched & patiently waited to hear the race start off in the distance.  Eventually it was all on, & the British representative, Annie Last, quickly got to the front of the field - much to the delight of the crowd.  The lead motorbike came on down the Rock Garden & we got our first glimpse close-up at some fast riders.

Annie Last leading the race down

Sabine Spitz - who I saw racing at the 2006 Worlds in Rotorua
After a couple of laps watching at the Rock Garden, we moseyed off back to our favourite spot at the top of Snake Hill with a view across to see the riders coming down Deane's Drop.

Below is Julie Bresset (FRA) leading Spitz (GER) & Georgia Gould (USA) to the top of the switchbacks

When Spitz crashed coming down Deane's Drop, slowing both herself & Gould down, the race as a competition was effectively over as Bresset kept extending her lead.  The only Kiwi in the field, Karen Hanlen, slipped further down the field to eventually finish nineteenth after a crash & a puncture - nonetheless, she got a cheer each time she rode past.

Naturally, we stayed for the medal ceremony, the flags being raised & stood for the French national anthem.

In a ploy to try & stop everyone leaving at once, there were more of the standard trials shows that seem to crop up at every big mountain bike event.  The RAF Falcons (parachute display team) also dropped in - just not in the biking sense.

So a great day out in the sun, on perhaps what is the only hill in Essex, watching a world class & well-run event.  I was well pleased to get to an Olympic event, & even more pleased that it was mountain-biking.

We wandered back to the train station & didn't really have to wait all that long considering there had been twenty thousand people at the event & then we were back in London for a bit of time on Southbank & a much needed meal.

Sunday provided a necessary sleep-in (I think I was still tired from Prague - it's a tough life) & then the last day of Olympic competition.  The marathon was great, but naturally I was intrigued to see the men's mountain-biking.  It was good to see the whole course as the race unfolded, listen to the informative (if you didn't know anything about MTBs) BBC commentary and watch a thrilling tight race that came down to a sprint finish.

That afternoon was a particularly early birthday dinner for me with a fair few of my second cousins, first-cousins-once-removed (in both generational directions) at a Mexican restaurant.  Good food, fantastic to get quite a bit of the family together - thanks Trish for the effort in organising it.  With almost two weeks to go until my birthday, the timing was a bit off (I was supposed to be in London next weekend, but then the Olympics came up) & it's so long since I've had to blow candles out, I was a little confused as to what to do.

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