So we all saw the mountain bike racing at the London Games on TV and we know the results. And we all felt frustrated for Burry Stander who came so close to a medal. And we all felt proud to see Philip and Candice racing their hearts out too. And we all finally realised exactly what this XCO discipline of mountain biking involves and why, globally, it’s the biggest discipline of mountain bike racing.
By Sean Badenhorst
Photos: Gary Perkin
You see mountain bike racing in its purest form is everything that XCO incorporates – a complete test of physiological limits, technical skill, pacing, split-second decision making and big, er, um… and courage.
So the course at Hadleigh Farm was made for TV. Hardly any forest sections, which is usually where we miss the action. There was a specially built rail camera, similar to the one in the main stadium that scoots down the finishing straight next to the athletes. This one tracked the riders down one of the rocky descents. Hardly a metre of the course wasn’t caught on TV.
Some critics say the course looked too man-made and not challenging enough. I was at the event and agree that it was very man-made in parts, but can’t agree that it wasn’t challenging enough. You know what makes any course challenging? Race pace. While the TV footage was exceptional, I don’t think it quite captured the steepness of the climbs, severity of the pace and the intensity of the leading riders.
Speaking of TV footage, this was mountain biking’s biggest stage yet. The London Games reached a total viewership figure of 4.8 billion people. How they calculate that boggles the mind, but that’s what’s been settled on. If just one billion saw the mountain bike racing, which is very possible since the events took place on a weekend, then that’s the sport’s biggest audience ever.
And that’s a good thing. Just one example of the significance of that, Darren Scott, popular South African radio DJ, now with Ballz Visual Radio, in his interview with Burry Stander, said that mountain biking is his new favourite sport to watch. Imagine how many more felt the same. That’s a huge amount of awareness for a what is essentially a niche sport in most countries.
Since the Beijing Games, mountain biking in South Africa has probably more than doubled in popularity, which means that newcomers to mountain biking (usually trail rider or half-marathon racers) were also able to see the XCO discipline and may even feel keen to give it a try (there is veteran age group racing for those over the age of 30), but more importantly, hopefully they’ll direct their children towards XCO racing so that in 2020 and beyond, we can cheer for more South Africans chasing Olympic mountain bike glory.
The superb TV coverage showed you a lot of the action, but not all of it. Here’s a summary of interesting stuff we gathered that you probably didn’t see or know:
- The 4 700 medals made by The Royal Mint for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games have set a new world record for the heaviest and largest summer Olympic medals, with the gold and silver medals weighing 412g, the bronze medals weighing 357g and all measuring 8.5cm in diameter.
- The Games were used to launch Super Hi-Vision video technology developed by Japanese broadcaster NHK. We didn’t see it in South Africa, but it was sent to seven massive screens in Northern Hemisphere countries. The resolution of the images is 7 680 x 4 320, which is an astonishing 16 times the quality of HD television. It’s likely this will be widely available globally within a decade.
- In the mountain bike events, number of starters – 47 men, 30 women.
- Number of riders that were pulled off – Two men, five DNFs; zero women, two DNFs.
- Number of metres climbed was 172m per lap, so 1 204m for the men, 1 032m for the women.
- Distance per lap was 4.7km. Total for men – 33.4km, women 28.6km (both rode a 441m start loop).
- Number of spectators – a claimed 40 000 (20 000 for each day).
- Why did men’s gold medal winner, Jaroslav Kulhavy, wear wellies onto the podium? It would appear they were part of the national uniform – we are not sure if we get the joke, or are the joke. The Czech squad wore them to the opening ceremony too, with matching umbrellas, possibly a comment on the notion of holding an Olympics in London, in summer.
- Did silver medallist in the men’s race, Nino Schurter, race with a rigid fork? In all the photos it seemed as if his fork wasn’t compressing when it should have been. A SCOTT team mechanic told us he rode a regular fork, but increased the pressure rather significantly.
- Why did Specialized paint all their Olympic Games bicycles that dayglo orange/red colour? Branding restrictions were tightened significantly for the London Games. A manufacturer logo could only appear once on an item of clothing or gear. That logo could be no more than 10 per cent of surface area of the item, and no bigger than 60 square centimetres. So Specialized went with brightly coloured bikes; which attracted attention but was within the IOC restrictions.
- On hats, eyewear, gloves etc – logos could be no bigger than six square centimetres; on clothing no greater than 20 square centimetres; and on shoes, only the normal design from the manufacturer, no special editions, and logo no bigger than six square centimetre
- In order to adhere to restrictions, but still make statement, Oakley also went the customised colour direction, giving all their Olympic athletes customisation options in the colours of the routes of the London Underground.
- And just so that no athlete sponsor stole the Olympic Games’ thunder (remember, there are official sponsors of the Olympic Games that paid millions for the association), here’s Rule 40: ‘Except as permitted by the IOC Executive Board, no competitor, coach, trainer or official who participates in the Olympic Games may allow his person, name, picture or sports performances to be used for advertising purposes during the Olympic Games.’ In fact, this extended to a period from 18 July to 15 August, nine days before the games and three days after.
- And being the age of information there were social media rules too, which forbid the use or portrayal in any way of the Olympic rings. Tweets and Facebook posts were only allowed to be first-person, diary-like and were not to report on events or activities of other competitors.
- Still photos were accepted, but no videos within Olympic events were allowed to be posted.
- No urls containing the word Olympics were allowed either – so burrygoestoetheolympics.blogspot.com would have be closed down chop-chop.
- And absolutely no hashtagging or linking to athletes’ normal sponsors, in any way, unless they happened to be Olympic sponsors… (how many IOC IT staff policed that we wonder?)
- What happened to two-time men’s champion, Julien Absalon? The Olympic champ from Athens and Beijing had a puncture on the first lap, changed a wheel, but had lost over a minute before the lap was done, and was 27th. Go gold, or go home. He went home at the end of lap two.
- What happened to Athens women’s champion Gunn Rita Dahle Flesjaa, 39 years old and on a storming comeback? She crashed near the start on the very first pass through the rocky section, dropped to 20th and then punctured trying to chase back on. Abandoned on lap three.
- What happened to bronze medallist, Marco Fontana’s saddle/seatpost? He rode the last few minutes of the race without it. It would appear he landed awkwardly on the saddle trying to chase back onto Kulhavy and Schurter, through one of the rock gardens, and the seatpost snapped.
- What happened to Phil Buys, who finished with two bloody knees? The South African had to unclip around the first corner in the bunch, backpedaled to get his clipped-in foot ready to power, and the chain slipped, so when he did stand up and pedal hard, there was no resistance and he went over the bars. And was run over by his own bike. Twice. Also had a wheel change early on, and only discovered at the end that his brakes were rubbing the whole race.
- The significance of Candice Neethling not being lapped (Yolande Speedy was lapped in Beijing) – not getting lapped means you are running less than 14 minutes behind the winner, by the end. In some races that gets you a high placing. It also means, at just 20, in four years time the Under-23 racer only has to look at a minute or so a lap improvement in speed, and some consistency, which will come with age too, and she will be right up near the medals.
- Fastest men’s lap: Jaroslav Kulhavy – 12:09
- Jaroslav Kulhavy – 27 years old, 187cm, 76kg: Lap times – 12:09, 12:31, 12:45, 12:56, 12:27, 13:06, 12:20
- Burry Stander – 24 years old, 173cm, 66kg: Lap times – 12:22, 12:26, 12:36, 12:56, 12:42, 13:03, 12:37
- Burry’s progression per lap – 19, 11, 4, 4, 5, 4, 4, 5
- Philip Buys – 23 years old, 187cm, 74kg: Lap times – 13:38, 13:48, 14:09, 14:23, 14:16, 14:11, 14:42
- Heaviest rider on the start list – Robert Forstemann (Germany). 174cm, 90kg. Actually a track rider and included in the MTB squad in a schlenter move to get a spare sprinter into the German team. His thighs are rumoured to measure 34 inches… he didn’t bother to Lycra up for the mountain bike race. Not surprisingly.
- Fastest women’s lap: Catherine Pendrel CAN – 14:46
- Women’s gold medallist, Julie Bresset FRA – 23 years old, 167cm, 53kg: Lap times – 14:47, 14:54, 15:03, 14:54, 15:05, 15:07
- Candice Neethling RSA – 20 years old, 170cm, 60kg. Fastest lap 16:05; slowest lap 18:01.
Gold – Jaroslav Kulhavy rode a Specialized S-Works Epic with 29-inch wheels. It was the only dual suspension bike in the race.
Silver – Nino Schurter rode a SCOTT Scale with 27.5-inch wheels.
Bronze – Marco Fontana rode a Cannondale Flash with 29-inch wheels.
Gold – Julie Bresset rode a BH Ultimate with 26-inch wheels.
Silver – Sabine Spitz rode a Haibike Big Curve LS with 27.5-inch wheels (Nope, we’ve never heard of Haibike either).
Bronze – Georgia Gould rode an Orbea Alma with 29-inch wheels.
Originally published in TREAD issue 20, 2012