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Thursday, August 9, 2012
Updated: August 10, 3:18 PM ET
Preview -- Olympic BMX finals

By Brian Tunney
ESPN.com

Dutch National BMX team rider Raymon van der Biezen emerged to grab the top time in Olympic BMX Time Trials and advance to the semifinals.

Preview Time Trials Quarterfinals Finals preview Finals

Throughout Time Trials and Quarterfinals, BMX racing at the London Olympic Games has experienced a wave of fierce competition from an unforeseen force -- the Dutch team.

Comprised of Raymon van der Biezen, Twan van Gendt and Jelle van Gorkom, the Netherlands' BMX team has seemingly come from out of nowhere to win Time Trials (van der Biezen) and claim two spots in Friday's semifinals (van Gendt and van der Biezen advanced.) Prior to the start of BMX racing at the London Games, little was being said about the Dutch riders, but as soon as the event started, they made their presence known.

As it happens, Raymon van der Biezen has experience on his side. A veteran of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, van der Biezen has successfully battled with BMX greats such as Kyle Bennett and Mike Day. In Beijing, he made it out of the quarterfinals and missed qualifying for the finals by one point.

Raymon van der Biezen went on to finish third place overall in UCI World rankings in 2010, before entering into training mode with the Dutch National team for 2011. The 25-year-old has battled injuries, including a broken hand, eye socket and jaw over the past several years, but he arrived in London completely healthy, ready to redeem himself from the 2008 Olympics.

He surprised even himself by posting the fastest time in Time Trials on Wednesday. "It's a good start of the Olympic dream. It gives me confidence," he said.

Meanwhile, the favorites heading into tomorrow's semifinals are beginning to flex some muscle. Team USA's Connor Fields finished a respectable fourth in Time Trials, when many expected to see him leading the pack. In the quarterfinals, he did just that, earning three wins and advancing directly to the semifinals with ease. He also bested Raymon van der Biezen's Time Trial time by over half a second in the first race of his heat.

Much the same could be said for New Zealand's Marc Willers and Australia's Sam Willoughby. Willers finished in tenth place overall in Time Trials, but posted two wins and a second place in quarterfinals for a spot in the semifinals. And Willoughby, who finished sixth overall in Time Trials, battled throughout quarterfinals to ultimately squeeze into semifinals.

Typically not a mid-pack rider, Latvia's Maris Strombergs approach to Time Trials and Quarterfinals has been reserved and cautious in London.

And then there is 2008 Beijing Olympic Gold Medalist Maris Strombergs, who finished 11th overall in Time Trials. He advanced to semifinals, but appeared reserved and cautious during the quarterfinals. Perhaps his less is more approach is part of the plan, but he's not talking about it with anyone.

According to inside speculation, the "hang back enough to make it into the semifinals" approach is a strategy to conserve the rider's focus and energy for the races that matter more.

Tomorrow, with the field of riders narrowed from 32 down to 16, anything could happen. The Dutch duo van der Biezen and van Gendt will come out swinging, but it will be met with a renewed "the gloves are off" approach from Willers, Willoughby, Fields, Strombergs and more.

Olympic BMX racing continues on Friday with men's and women's semifinals and finals.