(, August 19) -- A difficult Laoshan course will offer an Olympic-worthy challenge for the Mountain Bike Cross Country event at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games beginning on Friday, August 22.
The world's elite riders will be pushed to the limit by the addition of berms (banked curves), drops, rocks and new climbing and descent sections. The Women's race will be staged on Friday, 22 August and the Men's event the following day.
The course has been designed on a hard-pack single track covering a series of small climbs through heavy brush and woods, and the undulating nature of the course will leave little time for recovery.
Fifty men and 30 women will race on consecutive days, competing in a series of laps on a 4.5-kilometre loop.
The race distance will be determined on competition day, based onand course conditions. The Men's Cross Country event will last about two hours and the Women's race an hour-and-a-half.
This is the fourth time Mountain Bike racing has been an Olympic event after a successful debut at theGames. The event has grown into the most important title on the Mountain Bike racing calendar.
One major change from the last Olympic Games is the inclusion of authorized technical assistance zones for athletes. Cyclists may change wheels and other bicycle parts - except the frame - with the help of mechanics in designated zones along the course. Bike changes are not permitted. Also, riders may carry tools and equipment that they could share with same-nation teammates.
Leading the favorites in the Men's event is defending Olympic championof . A winner of four consecutive world championships from 2004-07 and 13 career World Cup rounds, Absalon boasts excellent descending skills to supplement his big motor ability to surmount climbs.
The course changes will favor Swiss climber, one of the best bike handlers in the sport. Teammate Florian Vogel, winner of back-to-back world medals, is another strong medal contender.
Veterans such as Roel Paulissen of, Silver medalist Jose Antonio Hermida of and Atlanta 1996 gold medalist Bart BrentJens of the should not be overlooked. However, a younger generation of riders like n Yuriy Trofimov, the under-23 world champion in 2005 and winner of a stage in the Dauphine Libere road race in June, who could deliver a Beijing surprise. Others to watch are 's Burry Stander, Inaki Lejarreta of Spain and Christoph Soukup of .
On the Women's side, defending Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa ofhas struggled with health problems. One of her chief rivals is of Spain, who is back to her best after winning the world championship in Italy last June.
Canadian Marie-Helene Premont, silver medalist in Athens, and Russian Irina Kalentyeva, who won the world title in 2007, are expected to shine.
A junior world champion in 2004, Nathalie Jessica Schneitter ofenjoyed a breakthrough silver medal in the 2008 U-23 world championships while veteran Sabine Spitz of , bronze medalist in Athens, will be vying for a podium place.
China's Liu Ying is Asia's most productive export, winning the 2007 U-23 world title after taking silver at the 2006 U-23 world championships.