London Olympics: Mountain bike competition to go flat?

Essex viewed as only possible venue

The London Olympic organising committee, LOCOG, and cycling’s governing body, the UCI, may be set on a collision course over the venue for the 2012 Games mountain biking competition. 

While both sides are keen to present a united front, it is clear that each has different priorities when it comes to successfully staging the event.

For LOCOG the criteria appears simple – the event must be held in Essex in view of its proximity to London and the fact that it views the county as a “great partner” . From the UCI's perspective, the venue must challenge the athletes while providing a great spectacle for the public and serving to promote the sport to the widest possible audience. 

Few observers believe Essex can do that in a straight fight with the world class mountain biking facilities found elsewhere in the UK, yet LOCOG  has confirmed to BikeRadar that it is the only county currently in the frame to host competition and that at present, no other sites are being proposed to the UCI. The news is likely fuel the argument that superior venues are being overlooked as political considerations and the quest for a “compact” Games take precedence.

The UCI has previously stated that no firm commitments were ever provided to LOCOG in respect of a decision to use Essex's WealdPark  - which was rejected as a possible venue last month - and that any political considerations will not figure in its final decision. A spokesperson for LOCOG, however, stated that cycling’s international federation had signed off and approved the proposal to use the Park during the Olympic bid stage but that the sport has changed in the intervening years rendering the facility unsuitable.

Neither party appears comfortable addressing the issue of what had been agreed when,  and an unusually tight-lipped Pat McQuaid, President of the UCI, told BikeRadar that his organisation had agreed with LOCOG that it would not to talk to the press about the matter, merely saying that a statement would be made “asap.”

Essex ahead of the Games

Meanwhile Essex’s determination to make the most of the potential financial windfall provided by the Games is well documented. As far back as 2006 the County Council held a conference under the banner “Essex ahead of the Games” in which WealdPark’s hosting of the mountain biking event was taken for granted and formed part of a Regional Economic Impact Study.  The study quantified the potential economic benefit for county at £139m.

Many observers believe that given the relative wealth of Essex and the mediocrity of its mountain biking facilities it should be dismissed as a potential venue altogether with priority given to areas of Britain which boast quality facilities but which are economically deprived.

But what do you think? Do you believe that the Games should remain ‘London-centric’? Should Essex, one of the UK’s richest and flattest counties, stand to gain so much financially when poorer areas with excellent mountain biking facilities exist elsewhere in the UK? And should the legacy of the London Olympics be confined largely to the capital and surrounding home counties or are they Britain's Games? Log in and leave your comment below.

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