On Saturday I made my way to Box Hill to catch a glimpse of the Olympic Road Race. Not having tickets for the ‘zig zag’ section of the course, I had decided to head to Box Hill village, where although the riders would be going faster, I would at least get to see them several times, and for free.
The train from Horsham was packed – all eight carriages of it – and I definitely needed to fold my Brompton. A ban on non-folding bikes on Southern trains, which will last for the duration of the Olympics and the Paralympics, did seem sensible, at least for this particular journey. Quite a crowd at Dorking station, where we all disembarked.
This dual carriageway road is normally a bit of a race track, with cars haring north and south, to and from the M25. Today it was blissfully quiet, as the town awaited the arrival of the race, which would pass through here, just once, on its way to Box Hill. Lots of people were already camped out on the northbound carriageway.
Enthusiastic declarations of support along the road, from different nationalities.
Slightly annoyingly, I was told to dismount as I cycled along the deserted southbound carriageway, despite this not being part of the race route.
Not very many people about in this carriageway – definitely a bit of overkill. Below, you can see one of the officials, in the orange vest, who was stopping people from riding bikes here, myself included.
So I had to walk up to the roundabout, where I was allowed to start cycling again, heading east on the (single carriageway) A25, which is a bit of a horrible road to cycle on, even on Saturday, with lower traffic levels. I saw a few families cycling along here, with dads at the back nervously trying to shelter their children from the fast-approaching vehicles. A bit of a grim irony that it was acceptable to cycle here, but not on a closed carriageway.
I had expected to be able to walk up onto the hill, into the non-ticketed section, at the first available footpath, but several of these were manned by officials demanding tickets (very pleasantly), and I had to cycle well beyond Brockham to find a footpath that was free to access.
Pushing the Brompton across a field -
Joining the swelling ranks heading up the path -
Lots of foreign fans here too, I suspect because they may not have been so quick off the draw at getting tickets for the zig zag section (and perhaps not used to the idea of paying to watch cycling from the roadside). Germans -
No mobile reception for me, so I was forced to rely upon word-of-mouth to have a clue as to what was going on with the race (strangely enough, this was much the same with watching it on TV, although I wasn’t to know this at the time). The only information was coming from a car which passed ahead of the race, giving the time gap to the break.
All very good-natured, including the police and games officials, who happily posed for pictures, while making sure we kept back from the road as the race approached. The police motorcyclists seemed to be having an especially good time, waving to the crowds as they passed through -
Standing up, and even high-fiving all the people at the roadside.
A real carnival atmosphere.
As for the race itself, well, I managed to stick it out for four laps, being greatly impressed by the speed of the riders.
Touchingly, some of the loudest cheers were for the stragglers from the lesser cycling nations, like Iran, Namibia and Georgia, who had already been tailed out the back of the race and were cycling on their own. Real empathy for these chaps.
But I decided, in the absence of any idea as to what was going on, to head off and cycle the ten miles back to Horsham, so I could catch the last laps, and the run in to London.
It was hard to be cynical about the Olympics after my day out. The good-natured, friendly mood of all the people who had turned out to catch just a glimpse of some athletes whizzing by was wonderful, and showed me that we should treat the next few weeks as an opportunity to, well, just have a bit of a party.