Of all the fields and rocky terrains surrounding the sublime city of London, organisers settled on an idyllic spot in the great county of Essex. It was always a surprise that the Hadleigh Castle site was chosen to stage Mountain Biking for London 2012, given that there are a number of spots closer to the M25 radius. But this discipline of cycling - the last to feature in these Games - requires challenges of the highest quality. And Hadleigh brings it in abundance.
Saturday saw the women's competition take place in glorious sunshine; the weather brought the venue to life and some 4000 spectators were treated to some fantastic competition. In a way, from a spectator perspective, it was like watching a road race in a concentrated, all-terrain fashion. The objectives of endurance and timing, coupled with pure racing, made it fascinating viewing.
This form of the sport doesn't possess the household names of Wiggins, Pendleton and co., but lots of enthusiasts still lined the route making observations on the action taking place. While there was a central stand, the best way to watch proceedings was to drift between different parts of the course. Interest was high in Team GB hopeful Annie Last who made a good early start and led standings initially.
What was fantastic, as with all the out-of-London venues, was the presence of so many international fans and followers. Here, in this small pocket of southern Essex, just a short journey from the pleasure beaches of Southend was Olympic sport. As a local you just had to pinch yourself, seeing the five rings etched everywhere.
Hadleigh is a glorious spot, tucked away from the surrounding suburbia; the course cuts and weaves through trees and pasture. And while some elements have been purpose-built for effect, the impression left was that of being at one with nature - and your gears.
With the rough and tumble of riders dismounting and some challenging riding in places, French woman Julie Bresset won gold in a time of 1:30:52, beating Germany's Sabine Spitz into second place with the USA's Georgia Gould taking Bronze. The fight between all thirty riders was gallant.
Spectators were left contented with what they had seen. The sport doesn't have the kudos of more established disciplines but the spectator experience during these Olympics has consistently proved there is an appetite to embrace the new, and to be inspired by the challenges these athletes go through.
As La Marseillaise blasted from the sound system on the course, Essex had had its first real taste of London 2012 action. Better late than never, and with the men set to race on the final day on Sunday, Hadleigh Farm will again be a testament to the fact these Games belong to the entire country.
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