The London Olympics have been and gone in a flash leaving a bit of a vacuum in their wake, I always enjoy watching the Olympics but even I was surprised to the extent at which I was absorbed by this years events. The obvious explanation was that they were located in and around London only an hour by train.
With them being in such close proximity surely I could get to see a few events live? Unfortunately the ticket allocation gods did not look upon my applications favourably and my attempts at getting track cycling, rowing or athletics event tickets failed miserably.
I have a strong preference to watching sports that the GB team are good at, in particular rowing and cycling both sports that I either do or have done in the past. The mens 8’s were a particular draw as a local rower James Foad was selected for the crew, James was always a star junior rower at Itchen Imperial rowing club in Southampton and I bumped into him at regatta’s and nights out from time to time, so it was fantastic to watch him win a bronze medal on tv but it would have been even better to be there in person.
After failing to get tickets for these events I set my heart on getting to the Mens road race, the opportunity to see some of my cycling hero’s close up was too good a chance to pass up. I’ve been following the Tour De France for years watching Cav and Wiggins road careers take off and so the road race would be one of the highlights of the Olympics for me.
The week before the Olympics I spent a fair amount of time examining the route of the race, in particular the area around Dorking. If I was going to make the trip to watch then it had to Box Hill where the riders would do 9 laps and the majority of the routes climbing. A bit of searching revealed that 10’s of thousands of people were expected to descend on the area. I’d have to get there early to get a decent spot.
An experience shared is always a more enjoyable one so I texted my old rowing doubles partner Pete, who after a bit of negotiation managed to persuade his in-laws to babysit for the day. Pete is about the most affable person I know and he barely batted an eyelid when i surmised that he’d need to get to my house for 5.45am on the Saturday morning if we were to get on Box Hill before the hordes descended (or ascended as was actually the case). We left on time and caught an early train from North Camp near Farnborough, it was fairly even before we got to Guilford just after 7am. From there it was standing room only.
Arriving at Dorking we piled off the train and set off walking briskly for Box Hill, the signage was good and the crowds were all heading in the same direction, arriving at the bottom of the hill for 8am there was already a steady stream of people heading up with tents and caravans filling the nearby fields. We stopped at one of the cycling festivals near the bottom of the hill for a quick breakfast snack, disappointingly they didn’t have a live screen as advertised that cut out an option for watching the final part of the race after the cyclists had left Box Hill and headed for the Mall.
We headed up the hill and about halfway up were told by a sadly misinformed gent that the organisers were turning people back already and he had been sent back down. Preparing ourselves for a bit of a dive through the woods we headed on up the hill, as it turned out no off piste adventures were necessary hopefully the guy who gave us this information didn’t put too many people off and made it up himself.
Once up the top we were happy to discover that there was a live screen, food stalls and toilets (50p a wee or free with a food receipt) provided by the well equipped Smith & Western grill who were making the most of the crowds without ripping them off.
Wandering along the road from the top of the zigzags the road side was filling up quickly with people setting out picnic rugs, chairs and hampers. We managed to find a nice comfy grass verge slightly raised from the road about 300m along and plonked ourselves down to wait.
Everyone was in a festival mood and event organisers and police alike were chatting with spectators, kids were chalking out the names of the GB riders on the roads with the adults lending a helping hand in the spelling department.
Frequent laps were being made by the police motorbikes who were having fun high five’ing people as they went by.
There were on or two familiar faces in the crowd …
When the racing reached us a break had gone very early on, Stuart O’Grady of Australia is on the front
The break was gradually hauled back by the peloton but managed to stay away, on the last lap of box hill the gap was down to 50 seconds, several riders managed to bridge the gap including Phillipe Gilbert.
The GB boys buried themselves to try and catch the break.
Only the German squad helped on the front, pretty much every other squad who had a shot had a rider in the break and didn’t help. The Germans were trying to get Andre Greipel up to the lead group for a shot at the final sprint against Mark Cavendish. Unfortunately lead group got away and Alexandre Vinokourov who has previously been banned for two years following a positive blood doping in the 2007 Tour De France took the gold medal.
Wiggo did not look impressed.
Despite the disappointment of Cav not winning a medal it was a great day out and I can’t wait to see all the guys back out on the road in the 2014 TDF starting in Yorkshire.