Olympic cycling in Surrey - the 2012 road race route via Box Hill

PUBLISHED: 17:11 09 February 2012 | UPDATED: 19:58 20 February 2013

Thousands of spectators are expected to descend on Box Hill for the Olympic road race

Thousands of spectators are expected to descend on Box Hill for the Olympic road race

When the news first broke about the Olympic cycling coming to Surrey, it was met with great excitement. As things have settled down, however, the challenges of supporting thousands of spectators, not to mention Olympic athletes, have become apparent

An Olympic challenge?
So, while there are obviously ecological challenges to be faced, what about the other most aired complaint: that a ride through Surreys leafy lanes isnt going to challenge the hardened Olympians?

The obstacles are what they are, says Chris Boardman, arguably Britains most successful cyclist to date, who recently visited Box Hill for the first time with Countryfile.

The narrow roads should make for some spectacular racing and I also found out about the pothole problem for the first time, he laughs. Most of those competing will have tackled the likes of Flanders Fields though, so a few potholes probably wouldnt put them off too much, even if they arent resurfaced.

Which must be music to the ears of Surrey County Council! While the whole of the Surrey route will be freely viewable to the public without tickets, apart from at particularly sensitive areas of Box Hill, rumours had been circulating that local residents would be responsible for forking out for any road repairs from their own pockets.

It simply isnt the case, says Surrey County Councils Denise Saliagopoulos, who lives in Staines. The organisers are happy with them as they are and, while we will have to remove and then replace things like traffic bollards, that is all covered by LOCOG.

There will be road closures but this is such a once-in-a-lifetime occasion that for the most part people seem willing to bear with it for a couple of hours.

The closures are expected to take place around four hours before the race passes through and three hours after; however, there will be areas on the route where vehicles and pedestrians will be able to cross up to 30 minutes before.

On occasions such as this, it seems the majority of people are willing to grit their teeth and bear it. After all, as a county, we had expected to play a purely voyeuristic role in the games when the National Shooting Centre at Bisley was overlooked by organisers.

It should be fantastic for the county; its already brought in millions to local businesses in contracts and its quite funny imagining what the billions of people around the world will make of our quirkier features like the Dorking Cockerel, laughs Denise. That said, I certainly wont be cycling the route myself; would you?!

Staying the course
One person who has already tackled the route, however, is George James from Elmbridge Cycling, who cycled the route with his group in preparation for a London to Paris ride they did during the Royal Wedding bank holiday weekend.

Its a really nice ride that takes you around some of the best parts of Surreys North Downs, he says.Everyone who owns a bike should ride this route before the Olympics and, as its about the same length as the London to Brighton, its do-able byalmost anyone. The biggest challenges look to be the hill climbs at Staple Lane in East Clandon and Box Hill.

While George is thrilled by the opportunity to watch the race at such close quarters, he would also like to see the Olympics bringing a few improvements to some our countys less hospitable roads.

Its sad that they seem to have chosen some of the least cyclist-friendly roads in the county, he says. Oatlands Drive and Seven Hills Road, for instance, are really unwelcoming to ordinary cyclists and two cyclists have been killed on Parvis Road in the last six months.

This forms part of the Olympic route between Weybridge and West Byfleet, and while its plenty wide enough to have cycle lanes, making roads safer for cycling hasnt been a priority in Surrey. It would be great if better roads for ordinary cyclists was the one lasting legacy of the 2012 Olympics in Surrey, but I really dont see that happening.

Historically, Surrey has form with cycling and, while some of the roads may not be as ideal as they could be, youre never far from being overtaken by a lycra-clad weekend warrior on local roads. Its nothing new: even as far back as the 1800s, Ripley and the surrounding area was described as a cycling mecca and the Abinger Hammer village sign includes cut-outs of bikes through the ages; two obvious pointers for starters.

Just the announcement of the road race seems to have refocused this history (remember, the time trial also takes place solely around Hampton Court Palace and surroundings too) and local businesses on the route are already benefiting from the extra exposure the event has brought.

We are getting people calling in who are riding in this area for the first time to check out the Olympic route and there certainly is a lot more interest in road riding, says Dave Fleming, of Cycles Dauphin, which is located on Box Hill.

Put your spoke in
Whether you are of an enthusiasts or not-in-my-back-yard persuasion, August brings two opportunities to acclimatise to 2012 with Active Surreys Ride the Route sportive offering experienced cyclists the chance to do exactly that and the London to Surrey Cycle Classic acting as an official test run for the full event with professional athletes heading our way. For the latter, wristbands have already been allocated by LOCOG to Surrey residents for restricted access positions at The Mall and Box Hill.

With the farce of the Olympic ticket sales still fresh in peoples minds, the opportunity to see free cycling in the Surrey Hills, even if its just the briefest flash of a peloton from a pub garden or the big screens that are said to be being organised along the route, will prove irresistible to many just watch where you are putting your feet.

  • The London to Surrey Cycle Classic takes place on Sunday August 14. For more information on the race and next years Olympic main event, see www.gosurrey.info.

Surrey residents' views:

Adele Mitchell, Surrey Life columnist and keen cyclist
I have an idyllic picture in my head of how the day will pan out my whole family cycling through the sunny lanes to watch from the side of the road (Ive mentally reserved my spot already!), leaning our bikes against the hedge, chatting to our neighbours, waving to the peloton and then back home for scones and tea. In reality, of course, Im sure we wont be allowed anywhere near the closest convenient hedgerow.

Julie Lever, on behalf of Box Hill neighbourhood council
Road closures and the road surface have been the major concerns at our meetings, but equally some residents addressed the audience to say how pleased and excited they were to see the race coming to Box Hill. We hope the disruption to the village will be kept to a minimum and that we will be able to embrace this once-in-a-lifetime event.

James Slayford, of the Running Horses pub in Mickleham, on the main route of the race
Our hotel rooms at the Running Horses have all been booked out already next year for the event. In fact, the route goes right past our front door, so the road will have to be closed. Being a keen cyclist and having many cyclists stop here for a drink or lunch on a weekly
basis, I am really looking forward to the event.

Chris Howard, vice chairman of Surrey Hills Society
Firstly, I am so proud of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and am delighted we can showcase our beautiful countryside to the world. However, there are many challenges to overcome in hosting this event, especially the need to protect our flora and fauna. There is a lot of work being put in behind the scenes to make sure these areas are looked after.

Lena Walton, a resident of Tadworth
Until now, I have felt total ambivalence to the fast approaching 2012 London Olympic Games. However, my feelings have now changed, having found out that my home village of Box Hill is to be on the cycle path. I regularly have to do battle with too many cyclists up here on weekends. Their latest annoying trend is cycling in numbers, four abreast, in packs like wolves.

Glyn Durrant, of the Surrey Cycle Racing League
I am very familiar with the roads that are going to be used for the race, and whilst I have not specifically ridden the course, I know how challenging it will be. The biggest challenge, however, will be keeping the roads clear of traffic on the day of the events from small-minded drivers who will insist on driving on the roads to be used because they do so every day.

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2011

When the news first broke about the Olympic cycling coming to Surrey, it was met with great excitement. As things have settled down, however, the challenges of supporting thousands of spectators, not to mention Olympic athletes, have become more apparent. With a test run taking place this month, Matthew Williams takes a look at what it will all mean for the county, focusing on the place at the heart of the race, Box Hill

Originally published in August 2011

Olympic cycling road race dress rehearsal deemed success

Crowds of around 100,000 watched Britain's Mark Cavendish win the London-Surrey Cycle Classic this weekend, which doubled as the Olympic road race test event.

The one-off race began on The Mall and took in two ascents of the signature Box Hill climb (the main event next year will tackle the slope nine times), as well as venturing through Hampton Court Palace, Walton-on-Thames, Guildford and Dorking.

Complaints about road closures led to a council apology but the event, which was the biggest test event for the Olympics yet, was largely deemed a success by organisers.

Some of the worlds best cyclists will descend on Surrey this month a year earlier than expected. Dont worry, they havent got lost on their way back from the Tour de France, but instead the London to Surrey Cycle Classic is seen as a chance to test out the course in preparation for the main event next year and is a world ranking race in its own right.

As many will already be aware, the Olympic road race will come right through the heart of our county, taking in Richmond, Walton-on-Thames, Weybridge, Woking, Guildford, Dorking, Leatherhead and Esher, among other towns, but it is Box Hill that provides the main focus (the mens race will circle it nine times) and also the source for a few concerns.

After all, when the Tour de France came to London in 2007, over two million people visited to watch it, so the thought of that many boots trampling over an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is enough to strike fear into the heart of any naturalist.

What is more, its chalk slopes are designated a Special Area of Conservation and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, with rare plants and orchids flowering upon them.

Its not just the orchids, although some of them are very rare, says Andrew Wright, National Trust countryside manager for Surrey Hills East. These habitats are absolutely hallowed turf in terms of conservation and we have a duty of care to protect the ecosystem that depends on them.

Protecting our landscape
If unchecked, blanket trampling from the thousands of expected spectators could be devastating, particularly to some of the rare insects, and so the decision has been made to create a ticketed spectator zone along the 1.2 miles of the Zig Zag road with tickets being distributed by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG, thankfully, for short).

In laymans terms, if you flattened all the trees in a rain forest, the rain forest would still be there, albeit flattened, says Andrew. The birds, insects and plants that live in the treetops, however, would be severely compromised.

That said, the charity is very pleased the road race will include Box Hill and, featuring on day one and two of the games as it does, offer the opportunity to showcase its natural beauty to potentially billions around the world (as an aside, materials from the Olympic Park will also be recycled to make homes for protected species around Box Hill, although at this point the details are rather vague).

For now at least, in-depth ecological surveys are under way and the results of this work will be integrated into the planning of Augusts test event to make sure there are no significant impacts on the habitat.

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