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Australian national champion ready for his second time at Games
With the opening ceremony signifying the start of the London Olympic Games, most athletes will feel their own campaigns have now "really" begun. However, Australian cross country mountain biker Daniel McConnell was not able to attend the historic event as he is competing at the Val d'Isere World Cup in France this weekend.
“I was unable to attend the opening ceremony in Beijing  and I am sure that it would be an amazing experience but we have the World Cup final here and it is perfect race preparation leading into the Olympics. I feel that it will give me the best chance to have an outstanding race in London,” McConnell told Cyclingnews two days prior to his race in Val d'Isere.
McConnell is Australia’s top-ranked rider in the UCI standings but like many selection processes, he had to prove his form throughout the season in order to earn his spot.
“With my results, particularly from the World Cups this year I was confident that I would be selected, but it was a relief and weight off the shoulders when I got the phone call and a week later when it was officially announced,” he said.
Val d'Isere is the last race before the Games and will give McConnell a chance to test his condition against the other Olympic contenders. All of the main protagonists will be present for this weekend’s race and McConnell is motivated to test his form.
“I have done some really hard training in the last three weeks so with another week of hard training I should come up good for the Games. This weekend will be a really good indication of how my form is, as everyone who is racing the Olympics will be here. It is going to be a very fast race,” he said.
There are two weeks between this weekend’s race and the Olympic cross country event in London but McConnell will not travel to Great Britain immediately. That small window of opportunity is where he hopes to really come into top form.
“We head back to our base in Germany for just under a week where we will get the last of the intensity training in. We then head to the south of London for a few days before we move into the Olympic Village,” he told Cyclingnews.
McConnell was able to test the course for the Olympics last year and while he knows what to expect from the circuit, he believes the result could be a little unexpected.
“I had the opportunity last year to race in the test event on the Olympic course. It is quite a fast course with many technical sections and will make for very close and exciting racing. Lately I have been doing specific course efforts, so I think that I am ready to take on the Hadleigh Farm course [ in Essex].”
“I think the obvious three to watch out for are Nino Schurter, Julien Absalon and Jaroslav Kulhavy who have all had great and dominating performances this year, but I think another couple to watch are Manuel Fumic or Burry Stander. Because the course is 100 percent man-made it’s a little bit different to the courses we are used to racing on. So, this leaves it wide open for an upset,” he said.
He’s been able to maintain a clean bill of health throughout the year, steadily building toward London while keeping his focus on the World Cup circuit. McConnell has improved significantly since his Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008 and is confident in achieving a good result at the end of the day.
“I will be starting the Olympics about mid field in the lineup. With some solid results this year I have been able to work my way up the UCI rankings and I am now in 35th so this will help my starting number. Even with the smaller field size in London the start is going to be very important – with the course it has potential to be bunch racing and drafting in a faster group will be a huge advantage.
“My goal for the race is top-15, obviously the most important is for me to have the best race I possibly can.”
McConnell understands there’s a couple of important races following the Olympics and won’t be taking a break until later in the year. The world championships will be the next big goal and he hopes to carry his form over into his last race for the year.
“We still have two more races to finish off the season. One is a BMC Racing Cup in Switzerland, only half an hour from where we are living and then the world championships in Austria in the first weekend in September. After this we will head back home for a well deserved break,” he said.