The end result

Breakaway goes away, breakaway gets chased down with 10 kilometres to go and Mark Cavendish sweeps to victory on The Mall. Same again next year, please. Somehow I reckon it won’t be so easy.

The crowds
I couldn’t believe my eyes. These were the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen in British races. High on a Cavtastic Tour de France, people – a mix of gender and demographics too – came from far and wide to spectate, armed with homemade banners, Union Jacks and picnic tables.

Kingston and Hampton Court had crowds four or five deep; crowds were packed in tight on village greens in little Surrey Hills villages. It was reminiscent of the 2007 Tour de France visit – and all for a test event.

Even the sport’s stars, who might err towards the blasé about the number of spectators given the number of Grand Tours and Classics they race, raved about the level of support.

This was the closest evidence yet that cycling has transcended its niche status to become a mainstream sport. The Olympic road race is going to be extremely popular.


After the riots in London earlier this week, this event didn’t need any embarrassments, clashes or problems.

The road race is one of the most difficult events in the Olympics to stage and police, but there were no cars left in the road, no accidents with spectators and no significant issues – not even an errant ex-priest in sight.

The route

140 kilometres and two ascents of Box Hill made for an easier route this time round, but with the added kilometres, ascents and quality, this will be a finely-balanced test next summer. We can’t wait for a ding-dong battle between the hardened Classics riders and sprinters over Olympic gold.

We’d wager, too, that the nagging section of false flat after the climb proper of Box Hill is going to be where the damage happens.

Richmond Park, London-Surrey Cycle Classic 2011
The London-Surrey Cycle Classic peloton heads through Richmond Park

Television coverage
We received plenty of questions about television coverage from eager fans. Where is it being shown? How long is it on for? When can we watch it?

The answer: a 20-30 minute highlights package on the BBC next weekend. Not good enough – heck, some of you information-starved lot even had to put up with our Twitter feed – and nowhere near a decent enough test for the media inundation the race will receive at London 2012.

Atmosphere in key places

In cycling races, the finish line and the race’s main climb are the two places spectators want to be.

Box Hill and The Mall are the two focal points of this course. The climb is to be tackled nine times in the Olympic race itself. People want to be there – it’s a mecca for London/Surrey cycling too, don’t forget – unencumbered, without the need for a lottery-won wristband or feeling like they’re causing a nuisance.

In my opinion, Box Hill’s enclosed area didn’t quite work. Riders had two kilometres of silent, fan-free climbing, followed by a 300m section near the top of enthusiastic fans going mad behind a fence. It was like pedalling from a meditation session into a monkey enclosure.

It was brilliant but far too brief: the event’s flagship climb has the potential to be our Alpe d’Huez, 3 kilometres of berserk fans rather than 300 metres.

My suggestion: either increase the climb’s capacity considerably – the hill’s SSSI rules will make that difficult – or find another climb.

The finish line atmosphere was rather sterile too, and the fans in attendance were too far from the podium to enjoy Cav’s champagne moment.

It’s not too late to review and make changes to the route. Your move, LOCOG.


We’re already receiving comments from readers of heavy-handed security with different agendas: one man would tell a cyclist he could ride on the route once it had passed, the next would stop him, saying in no uncertain terms to get off his bike.

To an extent, the organisation can’t win with this one. Security is a massive priority, and it’s going to be even more strict for the real thing.

Box Hill, London-Surrey Cycle Classic 2011
The bunch on Box Hill: where are the fans?

Crashes/pinch points on the course

Central London and its suburbs are not ideal for a free-flowing road race, and improvements can be made. Several riders commented on the presence of some road furniture and poor surface in places.

There were back-to-back crashes in a very similar spot on the Box Hill false flats.

And having seen the exact place Tyler Farrar came down, just before Brompton Oratory, my view is that his crash was caused more directly by a narrowing of the metal barriers – a pinch point – rather than by pushing in the bunch.

Related links
Cavendish wins London-Surrey Cycle Classic
London-Surrey Cycle Classic photo gallery
London-Surrey Cycle Classic: The Big Preview
Box Hill set for Olympic test event
Box Hill declared limited access for Olympic road race

  • Julian Palmer

    Look at the SSSI map. Leith Hill, Pebblecoombe, Abinger Hammer….all SSSI’s
    If 300,000 turn up at Box Hill, then what happens?

  • Neil D

    Considering all the fuss that the NT is making about the complete destruction that the cycling fans will cause to the fragile Box Hill, does this mean that going forwards they will ban the 1000s of visitors who leave dog-poo bags, nappy sacks, crisp wrappers et al all over the hill or do these not count as damaging?
    Or is the real reason that they are throwing a hissy fit is because they will be losing the revenue from the parking and shop which are always extremely busy?
    If NT really cared about the hill environment they would have closed the road to through traffic many years ago (it is not a public road and they would be within their rights to do so) and this would have massively reduced the numbers walking up to the top
    As others have mentioned there are far better and more challenging routes that could have been set in the area, especially around Leith Hill but they have a lot of tree cover and while they would have offered great spectating for the public who turned up to watch they would have not allowed the artistic director at the BBC get many panning shots from the helicopter while the commentator made inane comments about a sport he has never watched before (no chance of the BBC handing over coverage to the ASO or one of the low country broadcasting teams who actually know what they are doing

  • chris worsfold

    I’m thinking that it will be better to watch it on TV, cant run the risk of driving all the way to the circuit to be refused access. why go up Box Hill anyway? there are plenty of climbs in the area west of Dorking, the climb up to Coldharbour from Dorking would be very tough without any restrictions apart from its narrowness which would add to the excitement. Phil is right to suggest a descent of BoxHill would solve the spectator problem, the climb up Pebblecombe is tough but there is a level crossing at the bottom of the hill.

  • David E

    The climb up from Betchworth Station is called Pebble Hill, it’s a bit of a brute, short but sharp, and in retrospect perhaps that might be a better route than Box Hill. There would be no need for tickets and fences, but it’s not as scenic – and of course it would make a mess of the Railway timetables..!

    A better bet for a climb might be to go right off the A25 after Abinger Hammer, near Wootton, and up to Leigh Hill, then back towards Dorking via Coldharbour. This would make a good loop as you could then go back along the A25 via Wescott. There are loads of possibilities in that area…

  • Matt

    Will these comments be fed back to LOCOG, or is there anywhere that we can do so? It’s all very well us preaching to the converted on here, but these criticisms need to get back to the organisers.

  • Glenn

    Just a small correction, Pablo – the car reg was YH11 FGE
    And, generally, this country is just not up to hosting a cycle event, is it. (Unless, of course, as @EamonnHolmes typically said, it’s on a track!)

  • Phil

    Choosing to ignore Box Hill I was at Headley Cricket Ground, away from the barriers and over zealous security. A good crowd arrived throughout the morning and I would put the experience almost on a par with when the Tour came in 1994 and 2007. Having riden the Box Hill loop several times on the Saturday I wonder if LOCOG have considered reversing the loop with the climb along the main road and up through Headley, by turning Box Hill into the descent far fewer people would spectate their and letting the crowds watch the climbs. Box Hill isn’t that decisive a climb, I found the hill up to the course by Betchworth station more taxing then Box Hill itself. The general mood from the crowd at my location was positive, although with a 12 minute gap between the front and back of the field by the second circuit lapped riders is a distinct possibility.

  • pablo

    In response to Graham Fulchers comment;

    “August 15 06:09
    Graham Fulcher
    I haven’t seen it reported anywhere but just after the feed zone on the false flat after the top of Box Hill on the second lap: a following car tried to force its way past a chasing group and sent one of the German cyclists flying. Luckily he was unharmed (not thast the car appeared to stop to find out) but it did highlight some poor driving by some of the following cars: the stretch was narrow and trying to overtake a group of riders who were going all out to close a gap was ridiculous.”

    Was it this silver BMW (reg no YHII GGE) that nearly took out a rider and 2 spectators on the false flat section along Headly Common Road after the climb? Dangerous, stupid and reckless.

  • James Pellatt

    I watched with my family at the top end of Knightsbridge by Wellington Arch. Security was over the top, we couldn’t stand next to the barriers for riders and our own safety – they were turning away from us and the race line was on the opposite side of the ride. The atmosphere was a mix of cycling fans and bewildered tourists – I’m guessing that there are going to be a lot more fo them next year.

    We did manage to make the most of cycling on closed roads, for an hour in between the event so it wasn’t all bad. I hope that LOCOG can consider an alternative to the Box Hill scenario it would be good to allow more people to see what is happening.

  • J-P

    Again I was “lucky” enough to be in the Box Hill enclosure but to say it was amateurish would be the understatement of the year

    1) Even though I got there relatively early the only way I would have seen the race properly would have been to climb a tree. My wife, on the other hand was in Hampton Court, sauntered over with a cup of tea, 15 minutes before the race was due to pass and got a far better view than my VIP grandstand

    2) Our compere was obviously taking a break from her day job as supermarket announcer and asked to fill in at short notice. Terms such as the “Race Bubble is about 20 minutes away” , “Please do not go on the field of play” and the “pack is only just behind the first rider” made me cringe. If you wanted to know about the Box Hill fauna, however, she was as knowledgeable as David Bellamy

    3) I have never heard so much brown-nosing as the constant reference to how kind the National Trust was to allow 1000 people to stand on the hallowed hill for 2 hours. She forgot to mention that people are able to ramble all over Box Hill 365 days a year without any restrictions but for some reason cannot view a race for half a day.

    All in all I left incredibly deflated by the experience and frankly embarassed by the organisation. Can you imagine having Health and Safety announcements every five minutes on Alpe D’Huez? I dread to think what cycling fans from other countries will make of the biggest race to hit these shores since the Worlds. I for one won’t waste my time watching from Box Hill.

  • Simon E

    I’m really pleased to see that the crowds were so big and people enjoyed the event.

    But you didn’t really expect LOGOC, TfL, the National Trust et al to really understand how to organise a bicycle race, did you???

  • Baz

    There are loads of sensible suggestions here and fair criticisms but will anybody in LOCOG take any notice? It seems unlikely. Have a look at their website and its report of the race – is there just a hint of self-satisfaction, backed up by none-other than Pat McQuaid who says the event has been “an overall success ” that he is ” impressed with how it has been managed by LOCOG ” and he refers to “magnificent crowds ” ?

  • Graham Fulcher

    Malcolm – re your comment at 10.26 “We’ve seen on the Tour De France how careless the support drivers can be. An accident seems inevitable.”

    See my comment at 0609 – an accident with a careless support driver on the Box Hill loop has already occured. Luckily the cyclist picked himself up again ….. this time.

  • Graham1958

    We live in Boxhill and stood by the side of the road in the Village to watch the race. There was loads of space and we could see the riders coming about 200m away. We were thrilled to see the event and happy with the organisation. Everybody was friendly and the atmosphere brilliant. Having the roads closed for 6 hours was a great idea. Loads of locals all came out to cheer on not only the riders but the Police bikers as well! Cannot wait until next year when we have 9 laps for the boys and 2 for the girls! Well Done all the organisers and Congratulations to Mark Cavendish!!

  • Andrew

    I grew up in Surrey, now live in Putney, and ride all around the route on a regular basis, so I’m delighted about the route and desperate for the area to be shown off properly. I was torn beforehand about the race going up Box Hill – it’s a lovely spot with amazing views, but I wondered if it would be too easy for the pros….especially after I rode the route Saturday and experienced the pros speeding past me. Of course I was also concerned about the whole restricted access thing, but managed to get a wristband as I was keen to see how it all worked before I condemned it all.

    I have to say that I agree with the comments above…on a positive note, doing the loop 9 times will cause splits – I was surprised how spread out things were after 2 laps, although it was the smaller teams and nations getting dropped. But 9 laps gives the puncheurs a chance as well as the sprinters, so good route design in that sense.

    But on a negative note – the ‘monkey enclosure’ didn’t really work. Access was well signed and the stewards cheery, but if you stopped to think, the sheer farce of hundreds of spectators tramping up a tiny path through the woods (not sure why we couldn’t walk up the road at least), then having to step along a tree trunk to get into the area, was hard to ignore. This area is free access the rest of the year – thousands of people use the area without trashing it, I’ve even been tobaggoning here as a child, so why not allow people on the roads and in other selected areas too: you could have crowds one or two deep up the hill on the road, and just use marshals to make sure people stick to paths?

    Once in the enclosure, the atmosphere wasn’t great – you were just too cut off from the rest of the race, and the views weren’t great either. The best view I got mirrors the photo of the peloton snaking up the hill – i.e. a long-distance one. As they actually got on the stretch of hill near the enclosure, you couldn’t see much unless you were at the very front, and even though I was there early and only one person back, people pushing their way to the front just before the arrival of the race and then standing up meant I saw the riders literally as they got level with me.

    In addition, pets were allowed in – we had two dogs sniffing round us and our bags the whole time, the toilets and bike park were a long way away, and the PA…as noted above there was virtually no race info, just a lot of incessant and patronising comments about the beauty of the area, and how we needed to be careful because of the uneven ground. It really did feel like a geography/Health and Safety lesson, as if the bike racing was secondary and just a bit of a nuisance.

    If the problems above can be addressed, Box Hill could still ‘work’…and in any case as someone who has worked for an international sporting federation, and at an Olympics, I’m sure the route won’t be changed, so those concerned – including CW – would be better directing their energies at getting things improved rather than Box Hill being dropped altogether. if things remain largely the same then I will be watching from a different point on the loop next year – at least I was able to scope out various locations yesterday!

  • Paul

    Pictures of roped in crowds on Box Hill makes us look ridiculous compared to the sights and sounds that come form the ALps and Pyrenees…although a Surrey lump doesn’t quite copare….

  • Malcolm

    I was on Box Hill. It was well organised and most of the Security guys were pleasant and easy to talk to. Organisers said they were expecting 3500, but it looked well down on that. The lower enclosure was less than half used. The guys selling (very nice) bacon sandwiches said only 150 cars total in the car park we used in Brockham, so a lot of people with armbands didn’t show.

    Loads of people arrived on bikes but marshals didn’t seem to understand how riders were to get to the massive (and heavily underused) bike park in the Box Hill car park as the access road from Walton was closed off in the course. Encouraging people to ‘park and ride’ next year feels like a good idea. All the local roads are very narrow.

    The official ‘monkey enclosure’ was a little bit farcical. Endless announcements about safety and the beauty of Box Hill site made you feel like a 10 year old kid on a school trip. No meaningful commentary on the race at all. Given that thousands of people tramp over Box Hill every weekend, it was a bit bizarre to see the security fences erected over the whole site to keep a relatively small number of fans off it. NT need to think constructively over better access and create raised enclosures or open access in places all up the switchbacks.

    Even with just two laps to ride, the field was spreading out by lap 2. Given the 20-30 cars following on, its going to be chaos after 9 laps with riders surely lapping slower riders and cars. What is the plan for all the support cars with this going on? I did the ride myself, all 150 miles, in May and the biggest safety problem was being passed by cars as you climb round the hairpins. So i hate to think what could happen with an Olympic race on, loads of committed riders spread out all over the 9 mile loop. We’ve seen on the Tour De France how careless the support drivers can be. An accident seems inevitable.

    All in all it is starting to feel like Box Hill was a nice idea on paper that won’t work in practise.

  • Lou

    We were at the 500m to go marker. The atmosphere was great and we found it a useful test run as spectators; we have a better idea of where to stand.

    The atmosphere would have been even better if a PA had been put up. I had to rely on Twitter to find out anything, even who had won. I hope that the real thing next year will also have lots of video screens along the route so people can see the finishing line and the podium.

    The real disappointment for me was seeing that the last 500m screened off on both sides had so few people in it. This will clearly not be the case next year but, given how few people have been able to get tickets for 2012 events, it would have been gracious of the organisers to let more people into the grandstands to get a rare view of a finishing line.

    Finally, I would recommend that the organisers put up temporary bike racks so that spectators who have ridden in have somewhere to put them – and that those who ride in bring locks with them. You don’t make any friends in a crowd when your pedals are jamming in peoples legs 🙂

  • Simon

    We saw the race from the Box Hill enclosure. What was a bit daft was that we had to walk our bikes on the road from the roundabout, then walk up a country path through the woods to where there was a bike park (which we did not know was there). Then walk back to the enclosure where a woman on the PA kept telling everyone to “keep safe – it is very steep!”.
    The view was OK for those in the front, but otherwise not good. Also we could really only see the last straight before the trees and the cafe. There is a hillside opposite which would have a view of the majority of the ZigZag but that was empty. It would be ideal, like a natural amphitheatre.
    Why were we not allowed to ride up the road to the bike park, at least 90 minutes before the race came through? We did actually see people ride past when we were in the enclosure!!! Lack of sense and continuity of information.
    When the car came by saying that there was a breakaway of 6 minutes, the woman on the PA translated that as “the race will be here in 6 minutes” !!!
    After the event we were told not to cycle on the road!! Why? This was a ROAD CYCLING event!!
    It was a fantastic atmosphere, but could be so much better.

  • david clarke

    The road closures by tfl east of Kingston were much more extensive than in the official tfl map. Map had the roads closed about 500m from the route and even that was overkill. But in the event roads were closed from about 4km to the east with all roads west of the A3 locked down. Unnecessary disruption for both spectators trying to get to the route and people wanting to go about their usual Sunday business. The least they can do is publish what roads they intend to close and then stick with it.

  • Anne

    On the to-do list for the Olympic road race planning for next year has to be coordination with London Ambulance Service. Granted they have a difficult and crucial job but ingnoring road closed signs and haring down the road race route at Kingston in opposite direction to riders nearly smashing into policy motor cyclist and a backmarker bike rider was not smart. Driver had to grind to a halt and take evasive action inches away from spectators.

  • Graham Fulcher

    I haven’t seen it reported anywhere but just after the feed zone on the false flat after the top of Box Hill on the second lap: a following car tried to force its way past a chasing group and sent one of the German cyclists flying. Luckily he was unharmed (not thast the car appeared to stop to find out) but it did highlight some poor driving by some of the following cars: the stretch was narrow and trying to overtake a group of riders who were going all out to close a gap was ridiculous.

    There was only a handful of spectators on that stretch but a group on the next corner (standing in the forecourt of the Smith & Western’s Boxhill Restaurant) will have seen it also. From the results I assume it was Theo Reinhardt who was struck.

  • arronski

    20-30 minute highlights package a week later on the BBC …hosted by top knowledgeable cycling pundit clare balding lol !
    Why do our so called security act like thugs at sport events in the UK….CHILL-OUT !!!!!

  • sw15csg

    Managed to get on Box Hill (ticketed area). No atmosphere whatsoever. Felt far from the action and the feature climb failed to live up to….well…being a feature climb! Someone please remind me why they’ve included BoxHill. Are they doing it for the pros? Pretty sure every single one of them have been through more challenging and more scenic routes in their careers. Is this race, well the Olympics in general, not for the people of London?

    Keep this up and London can rival Beijing’s road race…zero atmosphere…(apart from carefully staged army folks waving flags). Cant imagine how morale sapping that’ll be for the pros…

  • Martin Fisher

    I was on Box Hill and I fully agree with those comments, if this hill can’t be opened up for have spectators lining the route then another hill should be chosen. Peering down from a grassy slope was just not good enough. Most could hardly see the riders as they went past as it was such a short section where the spectators could watch. I moved after the first lap add the peak section was far clearer and therefore a much better place to actually see the riders.
    I don’t see what the big problem is with allowing more people on the hill, it seems to me they’re being way to precious about that bit of land what exactly do they think will happen that won’t repair itself or could be repaired. It’s only half a days use, once, ever. Surely with careful control (as per today) access of pedestrians the special scientific parts can be kept un touched. Note there are no restricted areas I know of outside of this event and this is a busy tourist spot.
    They also need to sort out the directions for how to get to the car park as it wasn’t clear on the instructions at all how to get to the car park and the roads closed pretty early.

  • Wibblepuppy

    And another positive was that Sky presenter @EamonnHolmes was saved from having his crotch nuzzled at a Dogs Trust event (of long standing no doubt, requiring advance planning) when he was unexpectedly caught in the resulting traffic chaos. “Big tailbacks on A3 and A3 approaches to M25 and in other direction to Wimbledon. Due to flamin Olympic bikes. Keep sport in a stadium”.

  • Matt

    We saw the race at 2 points, Richmond Park on the way out and the finish (500m to go) outside Buck’ Palace.
    The barriers and fences in Richmond Park were total overkill. The grasslands and trees were fenced off with warning signs (specifically for today’s race) warning spectators to keep off and not climb trees! These areas are not usually fenced off and the park is obviously packed with all sorts of people on a normal summer weekend without such fences and signs. What did the organisers think, that thousands of hooligans were going to turn up and trash the park?!
    At the finish the nearest we could get was just under 500m to go (no wristbands). We got a decent view of Cav’s lead out, but didn’t know who had won as there was no PA, despite there being speakers in place ready to use. I think there was a PA in the finishing straight for those lucky enough to have wristbands, but we couldn’t hear it. I had to ask a guy with an Isle of Man flag if Cav had won. The marshal nearest to us was rather over enthusuastic too, rather agressively telling people to stand back from the barriers, even half an hour before the race arrived.
    Some friends of mine went to Box Hill and had a nightmare by the sounds of it, despite having wristbands, but I wasn’t there so won’t comment further on that.
    Plenty of improvements needed for next year I think!