Guided Ride Session at Hadleigh Farm, Essex on the 2012 Olympic cross country MTB course
by Kevin Rolt 5th May 2013 (on a nice sunny day)
Way back in January 13 I noted from some cycle club Facebook pages, people’s experiences of the guided rides at the Olympic course. Having seen a photo of a rider with a cracked eye socket and blood pouring from his face, I informed my other half “If you’re thinking of buying me a place on one of these rides then don’t bother”. After all, the team GB rider Liam Killian broke his leg during the race itself and he’d been practicing on it for ages so what chance did I have.
Too late was the reply from Maria (the other half) I’ve already bought you it. The first date booked was duly cancelled as there was a heavy covering of snow, but on Sunday 5th May I finally met my fate and attended the ride.
Now £40 doesn’t buy you much these days so I wasn’t sure what to expect in a 4 hr guided session, but I was pleasantly surprised. I arrived at the car park along with thirteen other riders and we were met by the two coaches. We then rode the short distance into the park down to a solitary gazebo erected where the start/finish line would have been. The park was completely empty, nobody there but us and some cows keeping the grass at a tidy level.
First thing was a skills evaluation which amounted to some cones scattered around and a couple of cut up pallets 12″ wide and 4″ high. We were told to hop up onto and ride along the pallets, then ride through the cones, pop a front wheel lift, a bunny hop over a plank and an ‘endo’ to raise the back wheel slightly. It reminded me of a CBT (initial motorcycle proficiency test). Everyone passed, even the gent wearing rugby kit riding on his Diamond back hard tail (we’ll hear more of him later).
The next and last test was on a section of the course (cardiac climb, but in reverse), it had a couple of small jumps and drop offs and that’s it, nothing too taxing even for me. We then started to spend a little time on each of the technical sections around the course, none of which has been altered drastically from the original Olympic one.
First up, Triple Trouble. This is immediately at the top of a short but steep climb just after the start. There are three routes C, B & A (C being easiest to A the hardest). I did both the C and B routes but at this stage and having no experience of anything rocky or steep, I chickened out of the A route. We were told that although the A route which was basically a roll over rock drop of about ten feet looked hard, it was in fact easy. But I didn’t believe them so I gave it a miss, thinking I may return to it later on. The gent in the rugby kit was not so shy, despite a fail on the B route he went, without fear over the A route and survived rolling out the other side.
On to Monument. Basically a big heap of rocks with again three routes of choice, none graded. The obvious one is the centre route which has you roll onto several large slabs of rock about 18″ wide, stay on them and you’re fine. The left route is on a bit of a side way slope but equally as easy, rolling both onto and out of the other side. The right side route is madness and we were assured nobody bothers with it so it’s just there to be looked at. I think this is the only section to be taken out of use by the public later on, the reason being that as the name suggests it’s built on an old monument so they’re putting it back as it was. Shame, it’s a nice set of rocks. Two down and my confidence is building at a reasonable pace.
Next is Dean’s Drop. This has two routes but only the A route was there for the Olympics. It’s a twisting narrow channel of rocks with a couple of 12″ or so drop offs along the way. The B route has been added as a bit of a chicken run and you can even start on the B run then go back onto the A run once the tricky bit is out of the way. I had a go on the A run but wasn’t rolling fast enough so came to a halt and had to walk back up to the top. Worth spending time on this one and it won’t bite you as you only go slowish (although it was at the bottom of this section on a rock berm that Liam Killian broke his leg, so you can’t be complacent and there’s a particularly nasty YouTube crash on this section.
Decent to Tunnel Run. This is a nice drop that of course in the video doesn’t look like anything of a drop at all, but like being on the top diving board at a pool, it looks soo much higher stood on the pedals of a bike. Again, nothing to worry about and we all survived rolling over the top with lots of rear brake until the rocks start, then let off the brakes and steer it around the bramble bush which is straight ahead of you, then up over the top of the famous tunnel.
Oak Tree Decent, an interesting one this, it has two routes (B & A). Now in the wet the B run would be very tricky having a heavy camber at the top which in the mud could easily have you slip off and fall about twenty feet onto rocks which form the A run to your right. In the dry though it’s a bit of a chicken run. The A route again is easily doable rolling in slow with lots of feathering the rear brake then off all the anchors and freewheel the rest of the drop. This is where rugby kit man came a cropper. He was a 6′ something chap who had some weight behind him as well. His riding style was similar to his bike, i.e. rigid with his legs fully straight and his arms the same. Fine on the flat or occasional bump but come a very steep slope, if you’re elbows and knees aren’t bent a fair degree you will topple over your bars. Anyway, he rolled over the top being the first one in line (what he lacked in skill he made up for in balls) his approach a little too fast, he disappeared over the top then the sound of brakes and an unusual thud. He had gone over the bars face down and slid along the ground on his knees, causing some nasty cuts which started to bleed profusely. He was offered medical assistance but said “I’ll clean it at lunch time” and carried on and had another go.
The Rock Garden is an interesting one. Barely on a slope, so it’s easy to control speed and there are numerous routes to attempt to get down. At the Olympics it looked like a few rocks to almost slalom around but riding it you realise how many rocks there are to throw you off course.
The final obstacle is called… obviously …Final Decent. This is a rock free half bomb hole with a small drop off half way down. Roll in, lots of rear brake feathering then off with the brakes to roll away – nothing to worry about at all.
The Olympics has left a great playground for those wanting to improve their skills and those wanting to race (Mud Sweat & Gears MTB series has a race there later in 2013) and we were told that once open to the general public, it will be just like Thetford where you pay a fiver to park, then play all you like on the course. In addition to what’s there already they are building a visitor centre and a pump track (like a BMX track) so should attract lots of people from far and wide. I’d suggest that before any of the crowds get let loose on this piece of history, you should sign up and go on one of the guided rides. A great day out for £40, you can take a guest to take photos/video your achievements. You don’t have to be great at MTB, if you are confident on some of the more technical bomb holes at Thetford you will be fine at Hadleigh. Once you’ve done it you will have masses more confidence for similar stuff around the country. Go for it!
To book your own session visit their web site.