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An Olympic ticket free for all

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Matt Slater | 10:22 UK time, Friday, 10 June 2011

If, like me, you have been checking your credit card statement every day for the last fortnight and wondering when handball got so popular, worry not, there are a few Olympic events with almost unlimited vantage points still available.

Tickets for the marathon, triathlon and cycling's road race and time trial are still up for grabs at four price points: gratis, nada, nowt and zilch. And for 100,000 or so lucky
souls, you won't even have to go much further than your garden to watch the action.

Never being one to pass up a bargain, I thought I would get a head start on the herd by checking out where best to put my deckchair and cool box for the road race, London 2012's first big sporting event.

There was, of course, only one way to do this properly and that was to ride all 80 miles of the route, which meant I would need two support vehicles, five cameras, six production staff, sandwiches and a pair of two-time Olympians to lead out my sprint on The Mall.

Still smiling at the end of the course... somehow.

Still smiling at the end of the course... somehow.

Strangely enough, finding the Olympians was the easy bit: Chris Boardman clearly fancied the opportunity to test-ride his latest prototype and Simon Lillistone thought it was about time he actually cycled the route he has spent the last two years devising from behind the wheel of a car.

Getting them to St James's Park for a 0600 BST start was another matter but we just about managed it and, with a watery sun rising over Whitehall, we started off with what every good time should begin with, a safety briefing.

Having been reminded of the rules of the road and issued with our flapjack rations, we set off towards Buckingham Palace, Box Hill and beyond.

The plan, and there was a very detailed plan, was to zip through London's more fashionable boulevards, storm past Stamford Bridge, cross the River Thames for the first of six times at Putney and film Chris and Simon's early observations in Richmond Park.

The first of many rush-hour coffees.

The first of many rush-hour coffees.

But there was a flaw with this plan: it was now rush hour and if we were going to be filmed riding every inch of the course we could only ride as fast as our camera car. So breakfast in Richmond Park became coffee, coffee at Hampton Court became elevensies and elevensies at Brooklands became lunch.

By this point, however, we had left London, its traffic lights and school runs behind us. We were now in the countryside or at least that bit of the South East where the houses stop and the hedges begin.

Lillistone, who rode the team pursuit and points events at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics (and has a couple of Commonwealth medals to his name), led the way as we passed village greens with cricket pitches, red telephone boxes and morris-dancing bobbies on the beat (OK, not them), and it soon became clear his job as London 2012's cycling boss was part theatre impresario, part road-safety officer and part Visit England ambassador.

The route the riders will takenext summer. If that seems like an impossible brief, it nearly is - Lillistone, who is responsible for the BMX, mountain biking and track cycling too, admits the road race is taking up about 80% of his time - but I think he has pulled it off.

When I tweeted I was going to ride the 2012 road race route, somebody replied "flat, flat, flat, boring, boring, boring", to which I replied, "erm, yes, we are avoiding those famous Home Counties Alps but hopefully we'll have some fun".

Complaining about a shortage of climbs in a race that starts and finishes in the middle of town (and that is what the broadcasters, sponsors and Olympic blazers wanted) is a bit like moaning about sand in your sandwiches on a Saharan picnic. But Lillistone has found some bumps.

Initially, back when London 2012 sounded as plausible as England 2018 does now, the idea was to make the road race a series of laps around Regent's Park and the relatively lumpy Hampstead Heath.

But cycling's governing body, the International Cycling Union (UCI), wanted a more iconic and technical course. So Highgate Hill was out and Box Hill's "Zig Zag Road" was in. Nine times for the men, twice for the women but only once for our merry band. We chatted our way up the National Trust-owned beauty spot in a relaxed nine minutes, a time I was pleased with until Boardman told me the professionals would do it in three.

"Why nine times?" I asked Lillistone, assuming this was just a sadistic ruse to give the VIPs a chance to get back to the finish line, but this was a careful calculation to get the race up to the minimum distance of 250km (156 miles), give the all-rounders a hope of riding the legs off the sprinters but do it far enough from the finish to give the sprinters a chance of bringing it all back together for an almighty dash to the line.

This compromise between aesthetics and sport is only a fraction of the logistical challenge London 2012's organising committee faces. Throw in headaches about crowd control and road closures, and pot holes and street furniture, and you probably have the best explanation as to why Lillistone fancied a day on his bike.

The route the riders will takenext summer

The route the riders will take next summer.

Boardman, however, had a short answer to my queries about the state of the roads and the potential danger posed by traffic lights: "man up!"

For the 1992 Olympic pursuit champion and former world hour record-holder, the 145 men and 67 women who compete will just have to accept this is a Classics-style race on British roads. They won't mind a few bumps and bollards, he said, as long as we don't scrimp on orange flags and bails of hay.

"Fine," I panted - we were now putting the hammer down through Kingston in an unsuccessful attempt to beat the rain clouds behind us - "but will this course deliver Team GB success?"

For many British fans, and I suspect a couple million of them will find a space along the road next summer, gold medals for sprint superstar Mark Cavendish and Beijing champion Nicole Cooke will be the only thing expected of the course. But Boardman thinks that might prove difficult, even for those two serial winners.

Cavendish will be without the help and security offered by his well-drilled HTC team, making him vulnerable to the attacks of every other rider in the race, all of whom will be desperate to avoid the bunch finish in which he excels. And for Cooke the route just might not be hard enough.

That is not something I could ever say. Even with the single spin around the Box Hill circuit I was ready for a pint and a bath by the time we returned to The Mall.

But after 10 hours of riding, talking, changing tapes and replacing batteries, I had learned something very important. I now know exactly where I will be watching Cav and Co but no, I'm not telling you.

The motion picture of this epic ride will be broadcast on British Olympic Dreams later this summer. I'll keep you posted.


  • Comment number 1.

    As a cycling fan the men's and women's road races were to be the highlight of the London Olympics for me and my family. But I was very disappointed to hear about the 'box hill circuit' section being fenced off and not available for the public to view the racing.

    Do you have any information on the latest situation here?

  • Comment number 2.

    Box hill closed to the public!!! This is probably more of a "rip off Britain" type of thing so someone can screw us out of more money!!

  • Comment number 3.

    Been trying to answer julie's question on my blackberry for last 15 mins! More detailed answer is lost but Box Hill will not be closed. Numbers will be limited, though, because of genuine conservation worries. A ticketing system will be used to control numbers but they will be FREE and not for the bigwigs. More detail as soon as I've got it.

  • Comment number 4.

    What a boring looking/sounding course!

    Im not much of a cyclist but surely Regents park, Hampstead heath, highgate hill, muswell hill & alexandra palace would have made for an excellent course both to ride & view, not to mention looking great on TV, imagine watching the cyclist fly by whilst looking out across Londons skyline from Ally Pally?? Not to mention plenty of spectator areas!

    Seems to me locog again messed things up by bowing to pressure from those above them!

  • Comment number 5.

    I can't believe all the people who moan about the course!

    Have they been here? (I live near Shere) Have they ridden it? It's a great route with lots lovely countryside and endless places to view it. It's a perfect choice.

    I mean flat? boring? Whoever said that obviously hasn't got a clue, or doesn't realise that this is a 'World Championship' course not an Alpine Tour de France stage.

  • Comment number 6.

    David, I completely agree. Didn't know that part of the world at all until we did the ride but was particularly impressed with rolling countryside around Shere. Staple Lane? Very nice. And I loved the descent from there to the main road. Met a glaziers van at the apex of a corner on that hill and nearly went through somebody's conservatory.

  • Comment number 7.

    As I live 10 minutes walk from Richmond Park any Olympic event passing through is more than welcome. I just hope it isn't on the same day as the 1 or 2 tickets that I think I have.

  • Comment number 8.

    Can anyone tell me why the Olympic/World Champs etc is always a circuit race? Why not make it an A to B? More of the country can be used and surely that makes for a better race?

  • Comment number 9.

    When the course came out my heart sunk - I grew up and worked in the area the route goes for 33 years and cycled to school, church, work and friends houses every day. I now live in Sydney and the chances of coming over to watch are very low and I am so sad to miss it. It is a great course showing some great parts of London and leafy Surrey etc. Some beautiful sights and some lovely roads for riding on - good fast corners and plenty of scope for racing fun. GOOD WORK LILLISTONE.

  • Comment number 10.

    PS because the tickets to the ride are free can anyone pass me the cash you'll be saving so I can bring me, the wife and 3 kids over from Australia? Please....

  • Comment number 11.

    Can't wait for the road races and other free to watch events such as the marathon and parts of the triathlon. Judging by the atmosphere created every year for the London Marathon and the TdF Grand Depart in 2007 these events will be brilliant to attend and show the real passion for sport of the British public.

  • Comment number 12.

    Let's hope the fine amenety companies don't start putting holes and cones everywhere the day before !

  • Comment number 13.

    Richmond Park is a deer park with normally low speed restrictions to safeguard the deer which are prone to cross the road when they feel like it. What is being done to maintain their safety or will speed restrictions be temporally lifted for the cycling event.

    Strangely I did have an encounter with a deer near the top of the zig-zag road at Boxhill many years ago. I was doing about 5 miles an hour at the time. The impact by the deer who was travelling up the slope and completely out of view till he jumped into the road caused a radiator leak in my car and it was dissabled. The deer got up and ran off - without leaving his insurance details.

  • Comment number 14.

    I am disappointed the ride does not go through more of London. As suggested earlier Highgate Hill & Ally Pally would have been good (tough climbs to this commuter cyclist!) and then they could go off to the picturesque Hyde Park, Richmond (I love riding through it at night) and Box Hill.

  • Comment number 15.

    Where can I get a traffic light by roundabout guide to the route, so that I can plan how to cover the route myself, and in how many days ? !

  • Comment number 16.

  • Comment number 17.

    cisgil23 - We're still going through the tapes (it was a loooong shoot) but we hope to have the guide you're after ready in time for the official test event on 14 August. Nice vid, that, Sean. Thanks for posting.

  • Comment number 18.


    Unless 2012 TdF is to be held earlier than usual (??) most of the best male "road-racers" will be recovering from the TdF when the Olympics race takes place.

    It would be interesting to know, if you can help, how many cyclists will take part, how they qualify (eg as individuals or as international teams) whether it is or isn't effectively a "team race" to help a sprinter win.

    You say tickets for eg Box Hill will be free and not for the "bigwigs".
    That'll be interesting.................. surely not an oversight by the IOC / LOG brigade ??

  • Comment number 19.

    Most of the route is indeed free, but the business end of the race is ticketed. I know, because I've bought some.

    Let’s be honest, a sprint finish down the Mall, the first medal of The Games, Cavendish sticking his arms out wide – that’s the iconic 20 seconds of footage that’ll be shown on loop for a few days...

  • Comment number 20.

    Hi Not sure if this is right place to comment on this, but cannot find any other relevant place.

    Have recieved a phone call from someone offering me Basketball olympic tickets. I think this is a scam as everybody is being told the same day what they have been allocated and I have not received any notification yet!! Please be aware everybody if you have posted any comments on BBC Olympic 2010 website. They use this to start conversation.

  • Comment number 21.

    I've ridden the central London and Surrey sections extensively, and also done Highgate Hills / Ally pally enough to compare the two, and would say the route they've gone with is the best all round. The north London hills are fun for training but wouldn't work for a big event like this.

    The first section out to Surrey will show London off beautifully, and then we'll see quintessential English countryside - plus nine loops of Box Hill will, cumulatively, be on a par with the big Alpine or Pyrenean climbs, which I'm taking on this year.

    Here's an account of one of the many Surrey sportives

    Come on Cav!


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