It’s been one of the worst-kept secrets in cycling over the past couple of years, but organisers of the London 2012 Olympics have finally confirmed details of the route that the men’s and women’s road races will follow on the opening weekend of the Games, and as expected, Richmond Park and Box Hill both figure.
London’s successful Olympic bid way back in 2005 envisaged riders fighting it out on a circuit starting and finishing in Regents Park, with the peloton heading up Highgate West Hill, along the top end of Hampstead Heath and then back down via Hampstead Village and Belsize Park
That route, however, was rejected by the UCI and IOC, partly because with the events coming hot on the heels of the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, they wanted the races to showcase some of London’s key attractions to provide a backdrop, similar to that provided by the Great Wall of China at Beijing in 2008, that would tell the world exactly where the Games were being held.
Referring to the new route, UCI president Pat McQuaid said: "I think this route will produce an extremely exciting Olympic Games Road Race, and especially with the circuits of Box Hill, it will be a worthy winner of both the men’s and women’s gold medals."
The races are provisionally scheduled to take place on Saturday 28, the 250km men’s event with 145 riders and Sunday 29 July, the 140km women’s race, where Nicole Cooke is defending champion but Emma Pooley is also likely to challenge, with 67 riders.
Both start and finish on The Mall in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, with the route heading southwest through Westminster, Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham before crossing the Thames at Putney Bridge.
From there the route heads towards Richmond Park, crossing the Thames again at Richmond Bridge where it continues to Bushy Park, then past Hampton Court Palace and over the Thames again as the riders cross into Surrey.
Once there, the race loops around Walton on Thames, Weybridge, West Byfleet, West Horsley and Dorking, where it follows a 16km circuit around Box Hill, which the men will tackle more times than the women given the varying distances of the two races; the men get to do it nine times by our calculations, and the ladies just twice. After that it’s back to London via Leatherhead, Esher, Hampton Court, Kingston and Richmond Park from where the race heads back to the finish using the same roads on which it left the city centre. All in all the men's race will feature about 2,600m of climbing, the lion's share of which will be in the Box Hill loop; each lap contains about 250m of climbing with a 5km drag to the high point. Our best guesstimate of the route is available as a GPX file at the bottom of the story (note: we've just changed this as we think we got the Box Hill loop wrong!). The ladies race knocks out seven Box Hill laps and consequently 1,500m of climbing, leaving a more manageable 900m over the 140km distance.
Much of the route, of course, and Richmond Park and the Surrey Hills in particular, is already popular with weekend riders who shouldn’t be too surprised if they see some of the sport’s top stars, including Britain’s own Mark Cavendish, undertaking a recce over the next year or so.
The HTC-Highroad rider, commenting on the route, said: "Competing in a home Olympic Games is a once in a lifetime opportunity. To compete in the Road Race on the opening weekend of the London 2012 Games in front of home fans is going to be amazing. I look forward to checking out the course in detail and to experiencing the well known cycling terrain in Surrey through to the finish on The Mall."
Seb Coe, Chair of LOCOG, said: "This extends the Games into the south west of London and Surrey. We are delighted to be bringing such high profile and exciting events here which will be bringing the Road Race into challenging cycling terrain through many new boroughs and districts. Following our medal success in Beijing, the Road Cycling events really will bring the magic of the Games to life for many thousands of spectators."
Hugh Robertson MP, Minister for Sport and the Olympics, added: "The Road Race is one of the first major events of London 2012 and will be followed closely by supporters looking for a home medal. I am, therefore, delighted that it will showcase many of our great landmarks and countryside and that big crowds will be able to watch it live."
Mayor of London Boris Johnson said that he hoped the races would help further boost growth in cycling in the capital, saying: "The explosion in cycling in the capital over the past year proves that Londoners have well and truly caught the cycling bug. There's no better way of getting around the city than on two wheels. This great route not only takes in London's iconic landmarks but brings the Games to the doorsteps of even more parts of the capital, and will ensure London keeps moving during these hugely popular events."
LOCOG says that a test event will be held on the route in mid-August this year, and with the Tour of Britain not starting until 11 September, that would have to be a standalone affair, and we’ll bring you details of that here on road.cc as soon as we are able to.
You’d imagine that whatever that event is, some of the London 2012 medal hopefuls would want to try out the course in a race situation, and coming as it does between the Tour de France and Vuelta, with the only competing races on the UCI World Calendar being the Vattenfall Cyclassics and the ENECO Tour, we’ve got our fingers crossed that some top pros will be racing through southwest London and Surrey later in the year.
Alternatively – and this is pure guesswork on our part – you may remember yesterday that when announcing its World Cycling Tour, the UCI said that negotiations were under way for a qualifying event to be held in Britain later this year? Well, how about an Etape-style race, perhaps running alongside a pro event, on closed roads?
With only six months to go until August, we’re bound to find out the answer soon enough.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.