The day after the Dalby World Cup, many teams and riders made the long trek down from the north of England to the outskirts of London for an opportunity to try out the 2012 London Olympic Games cross country course for next year.
The Olympic circuit is located in the town of Hadleigh, approximately one hour east of London, overlooking the Thames River Estuary. It is wide open, rolling terrain, and the course is completely man-made.
Organizers have built a roughly five-kilometre loop that sends the riders up and down the rolling hills multiple times, and they have constructed a number of rock garden sections dotted through the circuit. Most of the surface is crushed gravel, with a few grass and hard packed dirt sections. It should hold up well in both wet and dry conditions. It will be very spectator and TV friendly, with large sections viewable from a single vantage point.
A detailed trip around the circuit
After a start loop, there is a doubletrack, switchback climb into a rock garden descent (three route options). Riders then climb along a ridge and hit another rock garden descent after a small section of wooded singletrack. Next up is another short uphill traverse to a wooden ramp descent with two options - one a jump over some rocks.
From here, there is a fast downhill through an open meadow, into a single/doubletrack slight downhill through a wooded section. The course makes a left and goes up a short gravel climb, traversing across the base of another climb and hitting a small uphill rock garden before a longer switchback climb to the highest point of the circuit.
From the top, there is a sweeping descent into a steep rock drop-off, over a bridge. The course continues descending into the first pass through the tech zone. From the tech zone, it loops back under the bridge and then climbs back up to the highest point.
Once again, the course drops down, with a steep, rocky dropoff and then some tight switchback descending to the lowest point of the course. It traverses across to the longest straight climb (not too steep), and at the top, it heads back down through some fast and fun bermed turns, which take riders back through the tech zone for a second pass. Then it is onto another switchback climb and one last steep chute drop into the finishing circuit.
What do the riders think?
Riders gave mixed reviews of the course. Most agree that it will be very good for spectators and TV, but there are concerns that there are no sustained technical sections or hard steep climbs to break things up. At race pace, it will be a very short lap, possibly as little as 13 minutes for the men, which will mean lots of laps.
2008 Olympic silver medalist Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) said that there are too many recovery sections and that organizers need to take out some of the switchbacks.
Catharine Pendrel (Luna) also said that it is not a really hard circuit (which she would like), but she pointed out that not all courses have to be super hard.
On the test day, it was extremely windy - enough to blow some of the smaller women off their bikes - and if that is the case at the Olympic Games, it will be an important factor.
However, it needs to be pointed out that this is merely the first pass through by the riders. There will be a formal Olympic Games test event on July 31, and at that time organizers will take note of all feedback and make more adjustments to the circuit.