When mountain biking made its Olympic debut in 1996 the sport was so new to mainstream audiences that few batted an eye when it took place next to the equestrian events in a horse park on the outskirts of Atlanta. The terrain was almost exclusively compact dirt and there was little in the way of man-made constructions or obstacles of any kind.
Fast-forward two decades and trail-building has become an elaborate art form with highly technical passes, multiple textures, and varying gradients now par for the course. Need proof? Just check out the new MTB course at the X-Park in Rio’s Deodoro Olympic Complex.
The mountain-bike maestro behind this challenging route is in-demand trail-builder Nick Floros of South Africa. Floros has said that he crafted this arduous trail with Rio as his muse, which might explain the sandal-shaped dirt pits, batches of coconut trees, and overall topography that reflects the lumpy nature of Rio’s verdant hills.
The Olympic course is 3.4 miles of grassy wide-open stretches interspersed with man-made obstacles and serious slopes — a marked difference from the more level terrain four years ago in London. Floros sends cross-country racers climbing nearly two-thirds of a mile to the summit of “Flag Mountain” before descending through “Rio Rocks,” a downhill section that’s a minefield of boulders. There’s also a perilous 40-degree decent down a “staircase” of wooden beams. And because two tough climbs and barreling descents aren’t taxing enough, riders will also have to negotiate rough ridges, wooden boardwalks, rock jumps, tight bends, and a narrow tunnel, among other technical challenges.
Cross-country mountain biking is one of the sports that will close out the Summer Olympics on August 20 and August 21, the final two days of competition. Thereafter, the government plans to hand the X-Park section of Deodoro over to the general public, which means both the MTB course and nearby BMX Center should begin hosting athletes for leisure and high-level training in a matter of weeks.