Hadleigh Farm Ready to Host 2012 Olympic Mountain Bikers

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Mountain biking is a relative newcomer to the Olympic program, first being added at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The venue for mountain biking for the 2012 London Games is Hadleigh Farm, located in Essex. Here are a few things fans need to know if they are planning to watch this year's mountain biking events in person.

Venue - Hadleigh Farm is a 550-acre plot owned by the Salvation Army. The mountain biking course was completed in 2011, on schedule, and well ahead of the 2012 Games.

Events - Mountain biking has just one event, called cross-country. There are no preliminary heats. One race is held, and the winner takes the gold medal. Racers are seeded for the mass start based on their world rankings. This year the women's race will be held August 11 and the men will follow the next day.

Defending Champs - Having taken gold in Athens and Beijing, Julien Absalon of France is the two-time defending champion for the men. Sabine Spitz won the women's gold for Germany in 2008.

Field - The men's race will include 50 racers, while the women's race will feature 30 bikers. Any single country may only enter three men and two women.

Cost - The mountain biking venue was budgeted to cost 800,000 pounds to build (currently $1.25 million).

Course Features - Racers will make loops around a course 4.7km in length. Normally races are between 40-50km and take 90-105 minutes to complete. Bikers will deal with 170m of climbing every loop. Before Hadleigh Farm was built another site in Weald Country Park was rejected as not being challenging enough. As with all world-class mountain biking courses, this one also features technical climbs and bone-rattling descents. After test runs last year improvements were made to the course, such as widening some spots to allow for easier passing and adding some 100m of elevation.

Cautions for Spectators - This event includes some physical activity for spectators as well as participants. The venue will accommodate upwards of 20,000 fans, and lots of walking can be expected. Walking paths on site will allow fans to get very close to the riders. Food and drink concessions are available, as are restrooms and baby changing areas.

Getting There - Fans are recommended to arrive by train and stop at the Leigh-on-Sea station. From there a free shuttle will be provided. Lines for the shuttle are likely to be long, and fans can walk to Hadleigh Farm from the station, but it is a 40-minute walk. Good walking shoes are a must. In addition, very little shelter is available, so spectators are advised to bring gear for all weather conditions. Finally, fans should be prepared to endure airport-like security gates.
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