London Prepares: Road Race

Surrey Cycle Classic

After a busy friday and saturday, we topped off the weekend on Sunday by travelling to see the Olympic Road race test event. As I'm a member of British Cycling, we had wristbands enabling us to get into the restricted section at Box Hill just north of Dorking. This is the section of the route where there is a steep climb, but as it's not a very long climb (by Tourmalet or Alpe d'huez standards), they have to do nine laps of it at the Olympics next year. Arriving at Dorking Deepdene in plenty of time, we were at the foot of Box Hill for 9am, the time we were told gates would open - there were already a lot of people at the top of the hill.

The 'easy' option would have been to walk up the road, but instead we were directed up the opposite hillside, and had to walk around the side to the entrance. Cyclists had parking at the top of the hill, and were told to dismount and walk their bikes - we saw a large number of spectator-cyclists talking about how much faster they could pedal up the hill. I understand the need to close the road, but why not allow cyclists to start the climb until 9:15am? Forcing cycling spectators from their bikes so far ahead of when the 'race bubble' is due seems to run counter to the spirit of a road race. To our frustration, on arrival in the spectator area, we met people who had walked up the road, starting after we did - perhaps marshalls were not all singing from the same hymnsheet?

Once we'd walked up the hill, we had to loop around through the trees to find the entrance to the spectator area. It was a pretty small area, and already some four deep at the ropeline. Then, as we arrived were were told it'd be two laps of Box Hill (but in the real thing it'd be nine) - why the reduction?

I understand that next year they are hoping to have permission for a wider area for spectators and a commensurate increase in the number of people on Box Hill, whilst I'd agree that a wider area would be a good thing (making allowances for the SSI status), they need to be careful about increasing the numbers - it felt somewhat over full as it was.

Things wouldn't have been a problem if people had all stayed sat, but as the race approached, people at the front stood, and so everyone behind was obliged to stand as well - I got photos by virtue of putting my camera over heads or through gaps, and then hoping to aim correctly.

Mark Cavendish

The commentator did a reasonable job of interviewing crowd-members in the wait, but she obviously didn't know anything about cycling. Even the word 'pelaton' didn't seem to be in her vocabulary, this was a shame. We did not always get advanced notice over the tannoy, at one point a woman cyclist went past - she was riding the course ahead of the men as there was no women's test event - we were told she was coming after she'd already gone past. I don't understand the lack of a women's test event - given they're closing the roads anyway, why not start the women cycling an hour earlier or later?

The race didn't have the leading caravan you'd expect in a Tour de France stage, though it did have a lead car with a tannoy who drove around and paused to update spectators on the race - this meant that there was less to see than a Tour de France stage.

Will I try for Box Hill next year? Probably not, if I'm honest about it. It's an area in demand, and even with the controls on numbers it was a little too congested for my tastes. I'd rather be somewhere where, if I don't like the spot, I can move up or down the road. The race passes a little over an hour's cycle from home - so my plan next year is to cycle to the route and then find a spot along it. To facilitate this, the organisers will need to advertise a time where the route will be closed to cars - and separately advertise a time where bicycles will need to be off the route, in order to allow spectators to plan. I can imagine getting to the route and then finding a jobsworthy marshall preventing travel down the route to find a spot - I do hope that the organisers make allowance from this, and take a leaf from the Tour de France handbook in this regard. It'd be so easy for this event to be spoiled by over-zealous marshalling, fingers crossed that they get it right.

The organisers have also published 'overview' maps of the route, but they should go further than this, publishing a .gpx track of the route and importing it into sites like mapmyride etc.