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We’ve had the excitement of the road, time trial, track racing and BMX, now it’s time for those with knobbly tyres to have a go. A specially constructed mountain bike course located in the Essex countryside features a relatively flat course compared to Olympic routes of past. Having been chosen predominantly for its spectator access, the course isn’t too challenging in terms of technical difficulty, but fast sweeping sections should allow the riders plenty of opportunity for overtaking. So without further a do let’s have a look at the main riders to watch out for.

Burry Stander

The South African rider was under 23 world champion in 2009 and came second in the South African round of the World Cup this year. A current ranking of 4th in the world will pin point him as a danger man on the trail. The short sharp climbs of the course will create some intense duals on the up hills which may play against the young rider, but a 15th place finish in Beijing is something Burry will definitely want to improve on.

Julien Absalon

Julien Absalon is the only man to have won two gold medals in Olympic Mountain Bike history. At Athens 2004 he triumphed on the Mount Parnitha course, pulling clear on the penultimate lap for a comfortable win. Four years later Absalon retained his title at Beijing in 2008. Despite nearly falling on the fourth lap, he regained his composure in an otherwise perfect ride, going on to claim the gold by one minute and seven seconds. This is the man everyone is trying to beat.

Nino Schurter

The young rider from Switzerland is a multiple time World Cup winner, World Champion, Olympic medalist, and one of the biggest celebrities in the sport at the moment. The 26 year old rider has been coached by MTB legend Thomas Frischknecht and this is evident in his riding style. At 22 he managed to take the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The current talking point around this rider is the size of wheels he uses. The Swiss rider uses 27.5 inch wheels (650b) which sits just between the 29 inch and 26 inch more commonly used in modern day mountain biking.

So that’s the top riders in the men’s race, let’s have a look at the women.

Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa

The veteran rider from Norway will be looking to emulate her success in Athens taking gold in the 2004 Olympics. The 39 year old is a former multiple 4X world champion, so a technical course would be perfectly suited for Gunn-Rita, although her speed and power will pay dividend on this course. A 4th place world ranking puts her in great contention for a podium finish, and with an experience head on her shoulders we may be hearing the Norwegian national anthem at the end of the race.

Catharine Pendrel

A fourth place finish in Beijing wasn’t considered a disappointment for the Canadian rider, rather a stepping stone towards reaching the podium at the London 2012 Games. Canada is the self proclaimed leader in women’s mountain biking at the moment, but as rules state you can only have two riders per country enter the race, there will be little her fellow Canuck can do. As the current world champion, Pendrel is the current bookies favourite going into the weekend’s action.

Julie Bresset

Bresset is the current under 23 world champion and was the overall winner of the 2011 world cup. She’s currently ranked number one in the world and will be the rider that the rest of the field will be keeping their eyes on. A more technical course would have suited her riding style better, and with a heavy cross wind on parts of the course, team tactics could play a major part in deciding the winner of the race. This will be an Olympic debut for the young French rider and after a storming 2012 season on the world cup circuit, this race is hers to lose.

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