GB mountain biking looks for happy ending from Last
It doesn't have the glamour of road or track cycling but a woman from Bakewell is desperate to raise its profile today
An Olympic Games which has been defined by the triumphs of British female athletes can reach its perfect conclusion this weekend. After the successes of Katherine Grainger, Jessica Ennis, Victoria Pendleton, Laura Trott, Jade Jones and Nicola Adams, there is still room for more in the final events. And who better to provide the ending to the story than Annie Last?
This afternoon, at 12.30pm, is the women's mountain bike cross-country race. It is held out at Hadleigh Farm in Essex, where a man-made course of 4.7km will be raced round six times by a desperate mass of 30 cyclists. It should take more than 90 minutes, which ought to be enough time to separate out the riders but it is still likely to be a bunched and rushed tussle.
Mountain biking is one of the newer events, having only been in the Olympics since Atlanta 1996. For all of the British successes in track and road cycling, mountain biking does not have the same levels of popular interest or participation. But this is something that Last, the first British female Olympic participant in mountain biking since Sydney 2000, hopes to change.
"In Britain mountain biking is nowhere near as big as track or road racing," she admitted to The Independent on Sunday recently, "but having it at a home Olympics will hopefully encourage people to give it a go."
As the most successful British female mountain biker in years, Last knows that she has a particular responsibility in her field. "I never really thought about the history of women in the sport until last year when I got my first top-10 finish in an elite race at the World Cup," the Derbyshire rider said. "People were telling me that was the first time anyone [British] had done that for this many years. I knew there wasn't really the older women there to train with and learn from. But I think, for mountain biking in Britain for girls, you definitely see a lot more coming through now."
Last, 21, has enjoyed a very successful time since she deferred a place at Sheffield University Medical School. She won silver in the under-23 Mountain Bike and Trials World Championships in both 2010 and 2011, before winning a Mountain Bike World Cup race in April this year in Belgium and the Davos BMC Racing Cup in July.
"Hopefully if I can do anything to make it easier for them to make it, or inspire anyone to take up the sport, then that's great and I'd be really pleased," she told Bakewell Today, her home town's website. "Winning the World Cup eliminator event, although it was a much shorter race, shows that you have got the skill, racing ability and power to win. After that, you get a few more looks from people on the start line. People mark you and know who you are, and watch you more while you are racing."
While Last can hope to be near the front today, she faces a big challenge from Julie Bresset of France, who won the overall cross-country World Cup. Bresset has praised the specially constructed course in rural Essex. "It's been improved. It's totally artificial, with gravel and technical sectors. Everything has been calculated and it's a really fast course," she said.
Bresset expects the strongest challenge from the Canadian Catharine Pendrel, but would not rule out yet another British success either. "The big favourite is Pendrel," she said. "She had three wins in World Cup and she's the leader in the general ranking. [Then there's Denmark's] Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesja, who won the last World Cup and is really in form. There's also Annie Last, who races at home and really knows the course well."
What's on TV...
TV BBC 1 9am-12pm, 12.15-2.30pm, 2.30-5.15pm, 5.30-7.15pm, 7.15-10.10pm. BBC 3 9am-2pm, 2-8pm, 8-11pm. Further coverage BBCi. Highlights BBC 1 10.40pm-12am
8.45am Modern Pentathlon Men's fencing, featuring Britain's Nicholas Woodbridge and Samuel Weale. The swimming is at 1.20pm, riding at 3.20pm and the combined event at 6.45pm.
9am Athletics Men's 50km walk. Dominic King provides home interest.
9.30am Canoeing Men's K1 200m final, followed by the men's C1 200m at 9.47am, the women's K1 200m at 10.14am and the men's K2 200m at 10.41am.
10am Diving Men's 10m platform semi-final, with the final at 8.30pm.
12pm Sailing Women's Elliott 6m medal race.
12.30pm Cycling Mountain Bike Women's race, including GB's Annie Last.
1.30pm Gymnastics Rhythmic Individual all-round final.
3pm Football Men's gold-medal match. Brazil take on Mexico at Wembley.
3.30pm Hockey Men's bronze-medal match. GB's Ashley Jackson looks to regain face against Australia.
5pm Athletics Women's 20km walk. Johanna Jackson goes for Great Britain.
7pm Athletics Women's high jump final, with the men's javelin at 7.20pm and men's 5,000m at 7.30pm, featuring GB's Nick McCormick and Mo Farah going for his second gold.
8pm Athletics Women's 800m final, followed by the women's 4x400m relay final at 8.25pm and the men's 4x100m at 9pm.
8.30pm Boxing Men's light-flyweight final. The men's bantamweight takes place at 8.45pm, with Ireland's John Joe Nevin taking on Luke Campbell.
9.15pm Boxing Men's light-welterweight final, before the middleweight bout at 9.45pm and the heavyweight at 10.15pm.
10.15pm Taekwondo Women's +67kg gold-medal contest, followed by the men's +80kg at 10.30pm.
TV BBC 1 9-10.45am, 10.50am-1.20pm, 1.20-4pm, 4-7pm. Closing ceremony: 7.30-11.30pm. BBC 2 1.15-3.35pm. BBC 3 9am-3pm, 3-7pm. Further coverage and highlights BBCi
8am Modern Pentathlon Women's fencing, with the swimming (12.35pm), riding (2.35pm) and combined event (6pm) completing the roster. Mhairi Spence and Samantha Murray go from Britain.
11am Athletics Men's marathon. Lee Merrien and Scott Overall pound the streets for Great Britain.
1.30pm Boxing Men's flyweight final, with the welterweight final following at 2.15pm.
Cycling Mountain Bike Men's race. Liam Killeen will attract home support.
Gymnastics Rhythmic Group all-around final.
2.45pm Boxing Men's lightheavyweight final, before the super-heavyweight final at 3.15pm.
3pm Basketball Men's gold-medal match.
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