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Fire on the mountain: Olympic MTB venue skirts disaster

Talk about your close calls. On Friday afternoon disaster nearly struck the Olympics, when a fire broke out at the Mount Parnitha mountain-bike venue, tearing through a kilometer of the 6.1km course. According to a source that was at the site, the blaze came within 100 meters of several of the venue’s buildings, and the course, which will play host to the men’s and women’s cross-country races on August 27 and 28, has been shortened to 5.3km. The source, who requested anonymity, said arson was being blamed for the fire and that at least one Athens Olympic Committee employee had been

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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor

Photo: AFP

Talk about your close calls. On Friday afternoon disaster nearly struck the Olympics, when a fire broke out at the Mount Parnitha mountain-bike venue, tearing through a kilometer of the 6.1km course. According to a source that was at the site, the blaze came within 100 meters of several of the venue’s buildings, and the course, which will play host to the men’s and women’s cross-country races on August 27 and 28, has been shortened to 5.3km.

The source, who requested anonymity, said arson was being blamed for the fire and that at least one Athens Olympic Committee employee had been arrested. But a report in a Greek newspaper a day later said the fire had been inadvertently set by a worker who was cutting down a metal fence with a chainsaw. The report added that police had taken both the worker and the superior who ordered him to do the job into custody.

Either way, response to the fire was rapid, with 65 firefighters, four airplanes and two helicopters all pitching in to limit the damage. Still, the blaze has forced some reworking to get the course ready for the UCI’s inspection on Sunday morning. The primary feed zone had to be moved and 300 meters of new trail were being cut on Saturday. The shortening of the course means the men will now likely do seven laps instead of six, meaning two extra feeds during the race. Training on the course begins on Monday.

“If the wind had been blowing the other way, we could have lost the entire compound,” said the source. “Now we’ve got people out there working frantically to get it ready. It’s still going to have the same climbing content and we actually were able to add some cool new single track.”