Frenchman hails challenging course in Essex

Hadleigh Farm in Essex has become the first London 2012 cycling venue to host an Olympic test event, with two-time gold medallist Julien Absalon from France saying that it will provide a tough challenge in 12 months’ time after winning the men’s race yesterday.

British rider Steven James told the BBC after riding this weekend's event: “For full-on effort this is probably the hardest course I've ever raced round."

Some 5,000 spectators got to watch 100 top MTB riders compete in the Hadleigh Farm Mountain Bike International on the five-kilometre circuit in the grounds of Hadleigh Castle.

While some have criticised the track for the degree of difficulty it presents riders, Absalon believes it provides a challenge worthy of the Olympics.

"All the time you have turns, all the time you have rocks," commented the 30-year-old after easily beating Christoph Sauser of Switzerland and Austria's Karl Markt. "So you need to be focused all the time. It's difficult technically and also physically.

"The only problem is it's really difficult to pass on the track because most of the time you are on a single track."

The top British rider was Welsh champion Lee Williams who finished 20th, although Great Britain put out a weakened line-up with senior riders concentrating on Olympic qualification events instead.

Another British rider was the top-placed under-23 competitor in the race, Scotland’s Kenta Gallagher, aged just 19.
The women’s race was won by Catharine Prendel of Canada, who finished fourth in Beijing, with Georgia Gould of the United States second and Julie Bresset from France third.

"I think people were holding back today but I know I can win on this course - it's tough, it's fun and it's fast," Prendel said afterwards.

None of the British women competing finished the course, all of them eliminated along the way after falling outside the time limit, but despite that setback, one, Maxine Filby, remained enthusiastic about the circuit.

"It is a really good course,” she said. “When you practice it, it's not that bad but the faster you go the more technical it becomes. There has been unfounded criticism of the course but it is a hard course.”

Up to 20,000 fans will be present when the venue hosts the Olympics next year, and Essex County Councillor Stephen Castle was keen emphasise the circuit’s suitability for spectators.

"It's a great bowl, people can see two thirds of the course from pretty much anywhere they sit and you get great views of the castle," he explained.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.