A trip to the Olympic Men’s Road Race

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.

Lots of bicycles in evidence on the A24 in Dorking –

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 –

A hard slog up the hill, rewarded with a lovely view –

And then into Box Hill village itself. Huge numbers of people had turned out here, again, much more than I had been expecting. The slight rise in the village was already packed out –

So I was forced to opt for watching on a slight downhill. The atmosphere was wonderful, with people camped out in front of their houses, chatting and just generally having a good time.

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 –

Italians –

Belgians –

And a Dutch enclave –

Plenty of chat between all the groups – the Belgians asked me to take a picture of them, posing with their flag.

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.

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5 Responses to A trip to the Olympic Men’s Road Race

  1. Tim Beadle says:

    Same with the Torch Relay: despite all the sponsor & Locog nonsense, a really lovely, friendly atmosphere. The closed roads help; this is no surprise if you’ve seen Josh Hart’s research into traffic & communities.

  2. velorichard says:

    Watched it on the TV and it looked like a fantastic atmosphere. Wished I was there. Going to watch the TT tomorrow, very excited about it. As several of us are going, after much agonising we’ve unfortunately decided not to take bikes on the trains. We don’t all have folders and the trains just don’t support that level of joined up infrastructure.

  3. Dan says:

    I often use the cycle path beside the a24. On the day of the race I walked beside and across the a24 to get to mickleham from the station at box hill. The thing that struck me was just how peaceful it seemed (in spite of the hundreds of fans and their bikes) without the traffic!

  4. Paul M says:

    Dial on just a couple of days, and it all turns to ashes in our mouths. Bradley Wiggins, Tour de France winner and now Olympic Gold in the men’s time trial, makes crass remarks about a tragic death near the Olympic park. (Tell me, Bradley, how precisely does a cycle helmet protect my midriff from being run over by the wheels of a bus?) Because he is the new star of the moment, the media, especially those whose agenda it already suits, hang on his every word. Bradley may be the fastest thing on a bicycle, but that doesn’t make him particularly qualified to comment on cycle safety, or indeed road danger in general – most of the roads he has ridden on lately have been closed to all other traffic.

    Don’t get me wrong – I hugely admire his sporting achievements. To win at this level he must be hugely driven, totally focussed, but I submit that focus blinds him to the wider perspective. He sees cycling in a way that most regular cyclists today do not see it. He projects an image of cycling which in one sense of course is hugely positive, for our national pride, for the encouragement of sporting endeavour etc. But it is also an image which I submit is fairly negative – cyclists as whippet-lean, super-fit, lycra-clad, helmeted men in their thirties or early forties barrelling around at high speed in a constant joust with their competitors. Sadly, that image largely translates to our cycling culture in general, with a popular perception of lycra-louts who ride on pavements and bust red lights.

    I am sure that situation has more to do with the hostile conditions on our roads – to misquote an old chestnut “you don’t have to be an aggressive, super-fit testosterone junkie male to ride a bike here – but it helps!” – but it is also influenced by the dominant public portrayal of cycling, though manufacturers’ or retailers’ advertising as much as anything else, and of course by the whole Olympics jamboree.

    I know that much has been said about the potential for positive things to come out of the games, and I certainly don’t decry the positive influence of some cycling Golds on sports cycling in this country, but frankly I don’t think we particularly *need* more sportivers/audaxers/time-triallists/racers in our cycling culture. Chris Boardman, possibly because he has retired from top level competition and can therefore pause to look at the view around him, hit the nail on the head when he said that he hoped that the games would do good not just for sport cycling in this country, but also for TRANsport cycling.

    I also don’t think we need more male-domination of the sport, which is why I see a silver lining in Mark Cavendish not winning the road race on Saturday – it shone a brighter spotlight on the achievement of Lizzie Armitstead the following day, and on her remarks (reported in the Guardian) about the damaging effect of the effective marginalisation of female competitors. In terms of positive influences on the whole cycling spectrum, including transport, and as positive role models, I think the women work better, not only in terms of redressing the imbalance between the sexes, but in portraying cyclists as normal people. Victoria Pendleton in her promo shots for her Halfords range, dressed in a pretty frock and with her hair gloriously flowing, helmet free, is a far more appealing vision than a rake-thin early-middle-aged man in a lycra top, half-unzipped to display an unhairy chest.

    So, I have a new spin to put on the clarion call “Go, Wiggo”. Let’s say “Come on, Vicky” instead.

  5. Lorenzo says:

    We went too, also from Horsham. I expected it to be busy but was surprised how many people were traveling from Horsham, the 09:04 train was just about full. Full marks to Southern for laying on an enhanced service. We watched all nine laps just near Donkey Green on Box Hill and stayed to watch the rest of the race on the super size screen there. Excellent stuff, shame about the result, but guess it just wasn’t our day.

    @Paul M I couldn’t agree more. Think Wiggo’s a great cyclist, but his comments on cycling safety and specifically the wearing of helmets are unwelcome. Think Boris (unusually) had it about right, when he said the evidence was inconclusive.

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