By Greg Johnson
The world's top cross country mountain bikers have rated China's Olympic course highly after getting a first look at the 2008 Games venue at the weekend's Olympic Mountain Bike Test Event. Riders converged on the venue in Laoshan/Pékin, China last weekend with enough data logging equipment to rival a Formula One team, as they tried to gather as much information as possible to help their respective Olympic hopes for next year's XXIX Olympiad.
The general consensus amongst those in attendance was that the track is high-speed, and incredibly demanding despite being a technically straightforward course.
"I think the course is good, I like the look of it and liked the profile," explained reigning Australian champion Chris Jongewaard. "There are short, punchy climbs with not much rest in between, which makes the track very demanding in that way. Some of the areas through the trees will be about staying smooth and holding speed to get maximum speed and efficiency."
The 4.5 kilometre course that riders will vie for Olympic Gold on in August 2008 averages 3-3.5 metres in width, with some sections as wide as eight metres while the narrow areas shrink to just over two metres. "[It's] not particularly difficult, it is however very demanding," said German Sabine Spitz, who finished second in the weekend's race. "Personally, it pleases me as it's clearly better than the Olympic course of Athens. The track is coin shaped [with] many short, very steep climbing passages, where one needs much strength. Recovery phases? Zero."
Spitz, who finished second to Russia's Irina Kalentiev at the World Championships in Scotland earlier this month, was one rider collecting data at the track in preparation for next year's Beijing Olympic Games. "In order to take as much information from the round as possible home, my bike and I were equipped with the most diverse logging systems such as SRM cranks and helmet camera," said the 36 year-old. "We were not, however, the only one - Frenchmen, Swiss, Spaniard, New Zealander etc. likewise rode collecting data."
Both the men's and women's winners of the Olympic Test event, Christoph Sauser and Liu Ying, were satisfied with the time they spent on the track.
"After this test event, I think I had known this Olympic course well enough. It was a really good course," Sauser, the current Marathon World Champion, told Xinhua. "I hope this could be the Olympic Games, then I could be the winner of the Olympics," joked Sauser, who did not hide his ambition for the Beijing Olympic gold.
"The course was really hard," added China's Ying, who won the final World Cup round last weekend. "You have to slow down at every turn. I was familiar with this course, so I took some advantage over some foreign riders."
Jongewaard added that the track with be suit aggressive riders with a high level of endurance. "Some of the corners were getting loose but not really getting ripped up that much," Jongewaard assessed of the venue. "The surface is sandy dirt, if that makes sense. It reminds me of some of the BMX tracks I have race in the past. If you have the right tyres that you feel confident, you can really rip into this course. The track doesn't really have parts that are tough technically hard to ride, but to ride it is going to be very demanding, a bit like the Dutch racing - fast and furious!"