Two weeks ago, more details about the 2012 Olympic Games mountain bike venue were released to the media. Although the UCI gave the course an official thumbs up, public reactions varied widely and British Cycling responded by posting an article putting information about the Hadleigh Farms course in context relative to other Olympic and World Cup venues.
Hadleigh Farms was actually the second proposed venue for the 2012 Olympic mountain bike race. Weald Country Park was the initial choice and at first, it seemed promising, but it was later rejected so that the London Olympic Games Organizing Group (LOGOG) could create a more challenging course as well as one that worked better for spectators, TV broadcasters and athletes living in the near the Olympic village.
While one of Britain's many trail centres may have seemed like a better venue choice to mountain bikers, there were several reasons a trail centre was not selected. "For the Olympic Mountain Bike Event to be considered a success, tickets have to sell out, television viewing figures have to be high, there has to be a legacy of increased participation in the sport and mountain biking has to be seen to have reached a new audience," reads the article on the British Cycling site.
"And you won't achieve those objectives by putting the World's most prestigious mountain bike race in the middle of nowhere, with a pre-existing facility, an established following and a low population density," it continued.
Another advantage to the Hadleigh Farms location is that after the Games, locals will likely be left with a mountain bike venue that's open to the public and in a place where there was not one previously. The fact that the venue doesn't actually have a mountain on premises may encourage other venues without mountains to create mountain biking facilities, recreational and racing opportunities.
The Hadleigh Farms venue is expected to draw huge crowds given its proximity to the Olympic village and the relatively cheap ticket prices (£20 or £45) compared to other gold medal awarding Olympic events. Although no spectators will be allowed to park onsite, they will be transported to the venue from remote locations.
The very open, relatively treeless 5.1km course is spectator- and TV-friendly with much of the course visible and anticipated 12-15 minute lap times. That means fewer TV cameras should be needed - 42 were needed to televise the race in Beijing.
The total cost of the course building is expected to be £800,000 and one of the goals was to end up with a track that is ride-able even in inclement weather. Pavement not exceeding 15 percent of the total course distance and plenty of singletrack with passing options are also requirements.
Now at 60 per cent completion after construction began earlier in 2010, it's hard to know exactly what the final impressions will be, but construction should be complete by March, in time for some test events, which will indicate any further needed course changes.
The British Cycling article estimated that with all of the aforementioned course requirements, plus the need for a flat, open start area and a tech zone accessed twice per lap by racers, the longest possible climb could not be more than eight minutes were there to be just one climb per lap and one descent. Other international-class mountain bike venues, such as the Dalby World Cup and the Offenburg World Cup courses have taken the approach of more frequent, shorter climbs.
The Hadleigh Farm course, with its 70m of elevation gain per lap, is expected to fall somewhere in between Dalby (with 83m) and Beijing (with 55m) in terms of total climbing per lap.
Only four Olympic mountain bike races have been held so far: Atlanta (1996), Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008). London's Hadleigh Farm will be the fifth host. The Olympic races will happen on August 11-12, 2012.
It is expected to be the largest mountain bike event ever in Britain - bigger than both the World Championships in Fort William in 2007 and the World Cup in Dalby in 2010.