Cross-country mountain biking made its debut at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. In recent years, International Cross-Country racing has seen a move towards shorter, more technical and spectator friendly courses.
The Hadleigh Farm course, which will host the 2012 London Olympic Mountain Bike race is the most extreme manifestation of this trend to date, with a short lap length, numerous technical pinch-points, virtually no flat and a setting in a natural bowl in the Essex hills, which will make spectating and TV coverage the best the sport has ever seen.
Olympic Cross-Country racing features massed starts, with riders gridded according to international ranking. With race times for both men and women expected to be 90 minutes or less and lap times of 10 to 12 minutes, racing will be intense from the start. Indeed, a good start is almost essential for riders who expect to chase the medals.
Technical challenges on the course include rocky gullies, steep descents and climbs, cambers, loose surfaces and, should the weather turn bad, mud and slippery grass.
This video of the test event at the venue gives a good indication of the challenges the riders face and the pace of the racing.
If this summer has inspired you to get on a bike...