London 2012 requested to alter cycling course

Review of route to take in London landmarks

by Kevin Emery   September 3, 2009  

london olympics.jpg

The route for the 2012 Olympic cycling road race could be changed after organisers yesterday confirmed they had received a request from the International Cycling Union (UCI) to alter the course to take in more London landmarks.

The UCI wants to move the bulk of the race outside the capital altogether after the example set by the Beijing Olympics last year, where riders set off from Tiananmen Square and headed for the Great Wall of China.

The original route suggested by the London Olympic Games Organising Committee (LOGOG) for the showpiece cycling event, announced in 2005, was set to start and finish in Regent's Park, on a circuit taking in  Highgate West Hill, around Hampstead Heath and back down through Kentish Town and Primrose Hill, with the men's race due to complete 14 laps.

Parts of the course were subsequently used in the London leg of the of the successful 2006 Tour of Britain, with the short but sharp kick of Highgate West Hill constituting the 'King of the Mountains' section.

Indeed after the event, organisers and riders, including Olympic champ Bradley Wiggins, who grew up close to the planned course, heralded the success of the London leg of the tour after thousands of spectators lined the roads.

But the UCI is keen to provide the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and the Games, with a spectacular start similar to that seen in Beijing, with the event potentially attracting huge crowds and home riders expected to feature prominently.

The UCI's preferred route would start in central London and take in Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament before heading out west to Windsor Castle and Eton College, which coincidentally hosts the London 2012 rowing events on nearby Dorney Lake, which it owns. The race would then return to a central London finishing circuit. There is also a suggestion that the UCI would like to see the route toughened up a bit by taking in some mixed terrain, possibly in the Surrey Downs.

A LOCOG spokesman said: "We are in discussions with the UCI about what this route might be and will undergo full consultation about any proposed changes in due course."

When LOCOG announced at the end of July that the route could be reviewed, councillors and residents of Hampstead and Highgate were dismayed. Many thought that the event would put the borough on the map and that if the route were changed it could lose out financially.

This led to local newspaper the Ham&High launching a campaign to keep the 2012 Olympic cycling road race in Hampstead and Highgate.

And the campaign has won a high-profile backer in Mayor Boris Johnson, often to be seen cycling around the city, who answered questions in the Ham&High this week and said he supported the Olympic route coming through the area.

Answering a question by Camden Cycling Champion Paul Braithwaite, Mayor Johnson said that the initial route couldn't be beaten. "It will be a struggle to better a route that includes Regent's Park, Highgate and Hampstead.”

Johnson's backing has buoyed those supporting the Hampstead route.

Cllr Braithwaite said in the Ham&High: "It is an encouraging answer. The road cycling is the one opportunity available to citizens in London to see for free. It is the one opportunity to see an exciting event up close and personal. I would cautiously welcome Boris's words but we would like to see circuits around Camden, not just a race going through it. This is what we had in 2006."

A final decision is expected by the end of the year, and whichever route is chosen, it would be a surprise if it did not figure in either the 2010 or 2011 editions of the Tour of Britain as part of London's preparations for the Games..