Can BMX fill the track void? You might have noticed we are pretty fond of track cycling. In the last year we have been over to Ghent, the first London Six Day in a long time, the World Champs in the run up to Rio, and most of us have hurt ourselves at some point or another on our local track at Herne Hill. With the team GB clean sweep over, for some it has felt like the end of the games for another four years. But there is so much left to see, and the Rio 2016 cycling is far from over.
Like most people living in London in 2012, I very much went for a scatter gun approach when it came to tickets.
There was a strong sentiment at the time that if the biggest sporting event in the world is happening down the road, we’re going to go regardless. I saw die hard rugby fans getting behind the synchronised swimming and gymnastics, and notoriously unsporty friends bragging about their athletics tickets. I had seats at the BMX quarterfinals.
I’m not sure what I expected from the sport. It was only the second time BMX had been held as an event at the Olympics, and not something I’d ever looked into before. My impression was of kids damaging street furniture, or riding around with their saddles far too low to pedal properly. But at least it was cycling.
The reality turned out to be one of the best events I attended in 2012, and I had already managed to get in the track a few days before.
The energy was high in the crowd, built throughout the day by an old school hip hop DJ and MC, but this was nothing compared to the energy of the riders.
Eight at a time, the riders would plunge down a frighteningly tall and steep starting ramp, furiously pedalling massive gears on tiny bikes as they fought to escape the cram of the racing pack. Each jump along the winding course lead to an aerial battle of elbows and front wheels as they competed to land on the fastest racing line, and without wiping out into a crumpled heap on the track.
Races only last a minute, but they are a pure head to head battle. With rules being tightened in things like the elimination on the track, the BMX seemed almost gladiatorial in comparison. But as exciting and frantic as the racing was, it was clear even to a clueless armature like me that tactically, there was a lot going on.
Positioning is key, reading your opponent’s movements and navigating through a chaotic environment like the very best bicycle racing, only in this case the racing takes place in three dimensions rather than two.
Are we going to win more cycling gold in the BMX?
There are no guarantees in BMX, and while the strongest riders generally break out into clear space at the front, a little mistake can see half the riders down at the start. That said, GB are in with a pretty good chance.
The big hopeful in the men’s competition is two time Olympic veteran Liam Phillips. His ride didn’t go quite to plan at the London 2012 finals after his foot unclipped from his pedal, causing him to crash out on the final bend. His recent efforts however haven’t been quite so unlucky.
BMX seasons are a little unusual in their makeup outside of an Olympic year. The UCI BMX Supercross World Cup is awarded to the top performing rider across 5 separate events staged throughout the year. Victories in 2014 and 2015 leave Liam as the only man to have won the title two years in a row.
Liam will be competing in heat 2 tonight at half past five.
Sadly, Britain won’t be represented in the women’s BMX this year. Other than not naming anyone on the GB team announcement, there hasn’t been any explanation from British Cycling as to why this category has been missed out.
Australia are the favourites to take Gold in the women’s racing, but then again, people were saying that about the track events a couple of weeks ago too.[Update]
Things didn’t go to plan for Liam as he crashed on the first bend in his semi final race and wasn’t able to continue. Maybe next time.