Box Hill: A victory for CW and its readers

At last! After months of hearing about the downside of hosting the Olympics Games, the news that up to 15,000 fans will be allowed on Box Hill for the Olympic cycling road races represents a victory for Cycling Weekly and its readers.

Despite what some riders and organisations have tried over the past fifteen years, the notion of restricting the access fans get at cycle races thankfully remains a rather foreign concept. Watching this sport is based on the premise that, should you wish to see the riders up close, you are free to select exactly where you want to see the peloton flash by. Be it the start or the finish, or simply outside your front door, it’s your choice.

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When it comes to Box Hill and the Olympic road races, it’s not surprising that so many people were planning on making this little climb, situated in the heart of the Surrey Hills, their vantage point as soon as London 2012 organiser LOCOG unveiled the course last year. In the women’s race, only those positioned in Central London will see the peloton as many times as those on the hill, while the climb is unrivalled in offering fans as many views of riders as it does for the men’s event 24 hours earlier.

Box Hill will look rather different for the Olympic road races

While 15,000 may pale in comparison to the numbers who line climbs like Alpe d’Huez for days before the Tour de France comes to town, it is a vast improvement on the paltry 3,400 who were allowed on Box Hill for the London-Surrey Cycle Classic test event. Also, the climb doesn’t exactly lend itself to being suitable for hundreds of thousands of spectators; it’s about a fifth of the length of the Alpe, no fans are allowed on the road under Olympic rules and the steep banks do not lend themselves to having crowds of more than five people deep.

After last August’s test event, riders noted that they went from a wall of noise to virtual silence when they began climbing the hill. It was only when they got nearer the small viewing enclosure near the top were the familiar sounds of clapping and cheering audible again. However, the change in policy by LOCOG, National Trust (the owners of Box Hill) and Natural England should mean that the whole climb will see people lining the roadside from top to bottom come July.

CW has led the way with this issue, and thankfully, it finally seems that there is a good news story coming out of the Olympics for British cycling fans. Those behind the decision should, at long last, be applauded.

How Cycling Weekly led the way with the Olympic road races
May 21, 2010
Cycling Weekly publish what we believed to be the Olympic road race courses, some eight months before they are officially revealed. Sources later confirm our predictions are largely accurate.

December 15, 2010
National Trust members tell CW that they are concerned about the environmental effects to Box Hill should the climb be included on the Olympic road race route.

June 2, 2011
CW first reports that crowd numbers on Box Hill are likely to be restricted for the Olympic road races and test event.

July 14
We reveal that only 3,400 spectators will be allowed to watch the London-Surrey Cycle Classic on Box Hill. CW also reports that Olympic organiser LOCOG had not consulted the National Trust, who own the land, and Natural England when planning the road race courses.

July 21
CW declined LOCOG’s invitation of handing out 450 wristbands (one out of sixty five of our magazine readers) for the test event.

Late July
Ian Austin, the Labour MP for Dudley North who co-chairs the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, presents the matter as an official written Parliamentary question. Austin also writes to Lord Coe and Olympics minister Hugh Robertson.

Early August
Mark Cavendish tells Radio 4’s Today programme: “You can’t get on The Mall, you can’t get on Box Hill, the two key areas of the race. Maybe we can do a petition or something so that people can come and watch the race.”

August 6
The Independent report on the crowd restrictions that have upset many cycling fans after contacting CW.

August 11
Exclusive pictures show how fans will be shut out of Box Hill for the test event.

August 12
The Daily Telegraph mention the crowd restrictions in their pre-race coverage.

August 14
Mark Cavendish wins the London-Surrey Cycle Classic. CW gives cautious approval of the test event as LOCOG’s director of sport Debbie Jevans admits that the “bare minimum” of fans were allowed on the climb for the race. Jevans adds LOCOG will seek to increase the numbers for the Olympic road races.
Related link: Olympic test event: the report card

November 3
A LOCOG source tells CW that up to 15,000 fans will be allowed on Box Hill for the Olympic road races. Jevans also admits this could be the case.

January 26, 2012
LOCOG confirm that as many as 15,000 spectators will get to watch the action unfolding on the climb.