Sunday, 11th August. 13.30 pm London time.
Nino Schurter (Switzerland, 26 years old)
There is no way around it. Every individual starting the race on Sunday will have Nino in the back of his mind. He has been the protagonist of the 2012 season with four World Cup wins, taking the overall of the competition in the process. To help his golden cause: 1) He’s a man in form; 2) He’s the smoothest rider crossing the technical sections; 3) He’s a good sprinter. So basically, even if anyone latches onto his wheel over the rock-gardens, he has the power to take on the fool over the finish line. Strong contender indeed.
Olympic results: 3rd Beijing 2008
Julien Absalon (France, 31 years old )
Four-time Elite World Champion, Five-time Word Cup Overall winner, Double Olympic Champion and it goes on. There are no words for the amount of respect I have for a man who is widely considered the best XCO rider of all time. Dominance is no longer something he can claim, but this year cleared doubts, when the Frenchman showed who was the boss at two proper World Cup courses- Houffalize (BEL) and La Bresse (FRA). If there’s anyone I trust to match Nino on the technical bits is this guy. He will have to pull something out of the bag though, as his sprint is a weakness.
Olympic Results: 1st Athens 2004; 1st Beijing 2008
José Antonio Hermida (Spain, 33 years old)
I like to think of Hermida as the Oscar Freire on the XCO circuit. Let me explain. He is a spanish veteran past his best days as an XCO rider, but has an incredible ability of being in the right form, at the right place, at the right time. This is how he won against the odds the World Championship title in 2010. To top it all, he’s a great guy AND rocks an awesome moustache So if you don’t fancy anyone for tomorrow. Adopt him.
Olympic Results: 4th Sydney 2000, 2nd Athens 2004, 10th Beijing 2008
Jaroslav Kulhavy (Czech Republic, 27 years old)
After a successful 2011 season. the current World champion was ready to take the throne as the face of XCO, when he was hit by a severe case of Gilbert’s Syndrome. A lot of visits to the dentist, together with the increasing requests from press and sponsors were pointed as reason for a non-optimal prepararion during the off-season. And so, the Kulhavy we have learned to admire struggled for much of the year to make a case for his Olympic title, despite some flashes of brilliance. The big question is: will he be in form. If he is, be scared. He’s not the most technical of riders. In fact, he is mainly a rider with a LOT of Power. The only one to have beaten Schurter in a two-man sprint at the World Cup, as far as my memory goes .He would like the course to be more mountainous though, as he enjoys the longer climbs.
Olympic Results: 18th Beijing 2008
Burry Stander (South Africa, 24 years old)
After a 2011 season where he went unnoticed, Burry Stander was back at the spotlight this year, presenting a consistency that allowed him to fight for the World Cup overall until the very last race. You may also know him from other pastures, as he has won Cape Epic…twice. Not the smoothest of riders on the technical sections and would like the course to be more climber-oriented. Another weakness is his start. The kind which would make Albert look good in the picture.
Olympic results: 15th Beijing 2008
As for Team GB, they’re hopes will be with Liam Killeen. He is usually hanging on the first third of the peloton (20th or thereabouts). But a wall of sound will be with him all the way and he does have a record of rising to the occasion. 5th In Athens 2004. 8th in Beijing 2008. The public will be hoping he continues this trend.
Worth a mention: Marco Fontana, Manuel Fumic, Florian Vogel, Ralph Naef,Jean Cristophe Peraud and Sven Nys. There is not space for everybody. But they are not forgotten. Make sure you don't miss the show.