The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) today confirmed that subject to final contract negotiations, the venue for the Mountain Biking events will be at Hadleigh Farm, Essex.
Approved by the International Cycling Union (UCI), British Cycling (BC), the International Olympic Committee, and the British Olympic Association, the alternative site has been chosen following the decision in January 2008 to move the competition away from The Weald Country Park in Essex after the UCI deemed it not challenging enough.
The Hadleigh Farm venue covers a 550 acre site situated close to the village of Hadleigh, nr Benfleet in Essex on land owned by the Salvation Army.
According to Games organisers there are two “major hill areas”, separated by a valley which will create the technical climbs for the course.
Sebastian Coe, Chair of LOCOG today said, “It is testament to the hard work of everyone in involved that we have been able to confirm an alternative venue for the mountain biking competition only seven months after the venue change was announced. In Hadleigh Farm we have a world class venue for Games time with the potential for an excellent facility for elite and community use post Games.”
UCI president Pat McQuaid said that the UCI was “delighted” with the new venue, calling it spectator friendly and challenging. “Our technical experts believe it meets all the requirements of an Olympic mountain biking course with a range of elevations that will provide a challenging course for competitors.”
Not everyone was happy with the announcement that mountain biking would be confined to the east of the country, however. The Welsh Minister for Heritage, Alun Ffred Jones, commented, “I’m disappointed that London 2012 hasn’t looked beyond Essex, one of England’s flattest counties, for venues for the mountain biking events during the 2012 Games. Whilst this new course may meet the technical requirements for the competition, one thing we do have in Wales is plenty of mountains and some truly world-class mountain bike courses. This was an opportunity for LOCOG to show in a concrete way how serious they are about spreading the benefits of the 2012 Games beyond the south east of England. That opportunity has now been missed.”
It is noteworthy that the Olympic mountain bike course in Beijing is not particularly hilly, although it is expected to be technically challenging. The initial version of the course had to be modified to make it so, otherwise some competitors threatened to race on cyclocross bikes.
There will now be a four month planning period on the Essex course layout and the temporary facilities required to host the event, with contractual agreements still to be secured between all parties.