Rocky paths, tricky climbs and technical descents provide plenty of challenges for riders in the Mountain Bike competition.
Much like BMX, Mountain Biking is a young sport that has risen to worldwide popularity at an amazing rate. Fast and furious, the sport developed in northern California during the 1970s. However, it quickly spread from its low-key beginnings and now has a huge following around the globe, which has only grown since its arrival on the Olympic programme in 1996.
Did you know?
In Mountain Bike events, riders may carry out their own repairs, and are only allowed to receive outside assistance in dedicated assistance zones should they have any mechanical problems.
Mount Tamalpais in California is widely considered to be the birthplace of Mountain Biking.
Mountain Biking originally consisted of stripping down cruiser bicycles and racing them down fire roads and trails.
Having won gold in 2004 and 2008, Julien Absalon is going for a hat-trick at London 2012.
The course is 4.7km long with 172m of elevation change each lap. Each race will begin with one start loop of 441m.
History of Mountain Bike at the Olympic Games
The first official Mountain Bike World Championships were held as recently as 1990. A mere six years later, Mountain Bike made its Olympic debut in Atlanta.
Find out more about Mountain Bike at the Olympic Games on the International Olympic Committee website.
Mountain Bike competitions at the Olympic Games take place over rough and hilly countryside. All riders start together and must complete a set number of laps of the course, with races lasting a minimum of 1hour 30mins and maximum of 1hour 45mins for both men and women. All competitors start together and the first rider to cross the finish line wins the gold.
Bicycles used in Mountain Bike events are built for speed, durability and comfort – no easy task given the variety of terrain. They need to be quick and light enough to aid climbing through uneven terrain, but sturdy and stable enough to handle descents at extreme speeds.
Feed and technical stations are set at designated parts of the course where athletes can make repairs to their bikes and take on much-needed energy.
The men's and women's Mountain Bike competitions at London 2012 are mass start events. Riders are seeded into a starting grid, according to their world ranking, and the first to cross the finish line is the winner.
A panel of officials (or commissaires) oversees the event, including start, finish and feed/technical zone officials. There are also marshals stationed throughout the course to ensure athlete and spectator safety.
Keys to success
Successful mountain bikers need great reserves of stamina to stay ahead of the pack around the length of the course. They also need nerves of steel as they race at speed across rough and hilly terrain, and hurtle down daunting descents.
Out of the medals
The challenging terrain and rocky nature of the course means there are many opportunities for things to go wrong. Crashes are common so it is vital that riders look after their equipment as well as their bodies. A punctured tyre could end a rider’s medal hopes unless he/she can get to the technical zone very quickly to get assistance.
Full sus – a mountain bike with both front and rear suspension Hardtail – a mountain bike with no rear suspension Kick-out – a technique used to shift the back wheel out to one side into a turn Pinch flat – a flat tyre caused by hitting an obstacle so hard that the inner tube is pinched against the rim
If you want to find out about mountain biking in your country, including clubs, facilities and coaching schemes, check the website of your National Governing Body. To find out how you can get involved in mountain biking in the UK, go to thegamesandbeyond.com
For more information on the Mountain Bike competition at London 2012 and the rules, go to the website of the International Cycling Union (UCI), the governing body for the sport.