Olympic test event: Sunday riders sneak into peloton, but drivers fume at road closures
Gridlock takes some by surprise despite TfL awareness campaign, while amateur riders share road with pros
Top riders taking part in yesterday’s London –Surrey Cycle Classic found themselves sharing the road with a couple of members of the public who managed to get onto the closed roads of the 140km Olympic test event.
Aemon Atkinson and a friend had already cycled 70 kilometres on Sunday morning to find a spot near Richmond Park to watch the race, and after the main bunch went by, they took to the road themselves to ride to the finish without realising that there were still riders out on the course behind them.
"We thought we were going to get arrested being on the road while the race was in progress but no one batted an eyelid," Atkinson told Reuters when he was interviewed near the finish of the race, won by Mark Cavendish, on The Mall.
"A few team cars went by and thought 'What the bloody hell's going on here?' but everyone was cheering us which made us go on a bit more."
After riding to Putney Bridge, they crossed the Thames and suddenly found themselves overtaken by riders who had been left behind by the lead group.
"They came past us like a bat out of hell, so we tried to latch on for our 15 minutes of fame. The spectators urged us on."
While the pros taking part in the race could look forward to a post-race massage, there was no such respite for Atkinson and his friend, who still faced a 70-kilometre ride home.
We're not sure whether this picture on Flickr shows Atkinson - it was taken in Richmond Park itslef, so possibly not - so it could be that he and his friend weren't the only ones to enjoy a moment of fame yesterday.
The escapade wasn't appreciated by the pros by the look of things, perhaps unsurprisingly given the safety implications.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has been highlighting the traffic chaos caused by road closures in South West London and Surrey while the event was being held, despite a high-profile campaign by Transport for London to warn local residents and businesses about potential disruption.
The newspaper reported that roads in Central London had been shut from 4am on Sunday, with some further away from the centre of the capital closed from 8pm on Saturday evening, and the course not being fully reopened until 4pm on Sunday afternoon.
One driver, 56-year-old Alan Ashworth from Bromley, who was travelling to work in Kensington, abandoned his car on the Kings Road at 2.15pm, nearly two hours after the race had finished. He completed the last two miles of his journey by foot.
“It was absolute gridlock,” he claimed. “I was trying to cross Fulham Road and was turned back. I asked the race steward when the race finished and he said it was an hour ago. He said he was from out of town and didn’t really know what was going on.
“I was told to go to Shepherd’s Bush if I wanted to get to Kensington, he added. “But there were no cyclists flying by, just hundreds of these stewards. It was absolute nonsense.”
Someone else caught up in traffic was TV presenter Eamonn Holmes, whose employers, Sky, sponsor the Great Britain cycling team, although judging from his comments on Twitter, Holmes himself isn’t a huge fan of road cycling: “Big tailbacks on A3 and A3 approaches to M25 and in other direction to Wimbledon. Due to flamin [sic] Olympic bikes. Keep sport in a stadium.”
The Mail added that the situation got particularly heated near Earls Court when a wedding convoy found itself caught up in a traffic jam.
The newspaper also quoted an unnamed marshal who described the situation in Putney as “chaotic” and said that neither he nor his colleagues had been told when the roads would be reopened.
“This is supposed to be a test event and it shows there is a lot more work to be done,” he said. “I am from Lincoln and we have cycle events all the time that pass without any bother. It’s been a long day with a lot of angry motorists.”
Debbie Jevans, London 2012 Director of Sport, commented: “I want to thank London and Surrey residents for changing their normal Sunday to accommodate this race and to the tens of thousands who lined the route to support the athletes.”
Leon Daniels, TfL’s managing director for surface transport, added: “A huge amount of planning and delivery went into making this event happen. The vast majority of people appeared to heed our advice to plan their travel and used tube and rail services, while others chose to enjoy viewing the race in their local area.”
It should be said that the Mail’s article is accompanied by some cracking images of the event itself, although the captions leave something to be desired – “The leading pack did draw some support from cycle fans as they hit the home straight down The Mall” is a bit of an understatement given the huge crowds that lined much of the route, compared by some to those that greeted the Tour de France when it staged its Grand Depart in the British capital in 2007.