In just under a year the much-anticipated London 2012 Olympic mountain bike race will be underway, with the world’s best fighting it out over the much-maligned Hadley Farm course in Essex.
However this weekend as a precursor to what will be undoubtedly a most memorable occasion, 5,000 spectators were treated to a test event of the venue with some of the worlds leading riders along with a smattering of home grown talent, provide a stunning display of competitive racing.
Under soaring blue skies and blistering heat it was world ranked number 1 rider Canadian Catharine Pendrel and Frenchman Julien Absalon who took solo victories in their respective events.
Julie Bresset opened up the racing account, straight from the line, stringing the field out behind her as she launched herself up the first of many climbs. Right on her wheel was Pendrel and quickly the two eased themselves away from the rest of the field.
Georgia Gould managed to bridge the gap towards the end of the first lap of the six lap race and despite the efforts of the chasing field it was apparent the medals were to be decided from this compact group.
Bresset’s heady start was soon under pressure as Pendrel launched an attack, by lap four Pendrel had opened a gap between Bresset and Gould. Gould fought back to Pendrel’s wheel, but thanks to a crash in the closing stages was unable to challenge for the lead. Pendrel took the win, with Gould coming home for second ahead of Bresset.
First Brit home was Jessie Roberts, followed by newly crowned Under23 national Champion Carla Haines, plastered with a huge grin as she revelled in the entire experience.
Pendrel commented after the race: “You appreciate the hardness of the climbs in race conditions, I think it races well; it’s a hard course, a fast course, I think it’s anyone’s course. A lot of the Europeans were training through this, I think, preparing for the European championships next week, so this result is not indicative of what we will see next year.”
In a real flourish of showmanship Julien Absalon dominated the men’s race from the front as he screeched from the start line taking the race out at breakneck speed. No one could or maybe didn’t want to stay with the three-time Olympian, leaving him to fly the coop, opening up a 20 second lead on the first of seven punishing laps.
Absalon was on full gas the entire race, despite his solo effort he attacked every climb and took the fastest lines whenever possible continuing to grow his lead.
Jaroslav Kulhavy, Christoph Sauser, and Austrian Karl Markt gave chase but couldn’t catch the flying Frenchman, who has firmly thrown down the gauntlet for next year’s race.
World Cup leader Kulhavy seemed at ease and was certainly not riding at full gas, leaving Sauser and Markt to battle out second and third respectively, as soon as the race finished he was off on a training ride, while Absalon delivered his coup de grace in the press conference.
“I am very pleased,” said Absalon. “I wanted to race very hard, because I have not had as much racing lately, so it was important to see how my form was, and it is good. I think maybe because I have not raced as much as some of the others, I am maybe fresher at this point of the season.
“It was important to do good start, and I did it. The legs were good, and I did a perfect race. I’m also happy with the track, finally it’s good to ride, it is a fun track and it’s interesting. So, I go back to France with a good feeling.”
First GB rider home was Welshman, Lee Williams, who rode a strong race nearly racing himself into a top ten position, however a nasty tumble mid race left him fighting hard to get back into the front end of the race, eventually finishing in a respectable 20th.
Photos © Joolze Dymond