Simon Wicks, Tuesday 17 July 2012
The Olympic Cycling Road Race course, including nine climbs of Box Hill, covers a total distance of 155 miles.
At regular speed this is gruelling enough, but at race pace??
Team GB prospect Ben Swift is almost blasé about it: ‘It’s tough,’ he admits. ‘But we do enough races to be used to that sort of distance. Some people will ride the Tour de France to prepare; others will ride other races like the tour of Poland. Everyone’s going to have their own approach.’
Preparation for the racing season begins with thousands of winter miles and gym sessions; it continues with early season races, and specific training and rest periods to ensure the riders are in peak condition for their big events. Cyclists have to really watch their diet, too, because every pound counts. Nevertheless, they’ll eat a huge breakfast on the morning of a race and eat and drink throughout, because they can expect to burn upwards of 6,000 calories.
Riding a long distance over hills at speed requires considerable mental, as well as physical, strength. Even with all that training, many riders will drop out before the finish – either because their job for the day is done or they simply don’t have the legs to keep up when the pace increases.
Though much shorter (18 miles for the women, 27 for the men), the time trial – or ‘race of truth’ - is an event that many riders dread. Riding solo, as fast as you can for a long period, is no mean feat and, as Emma Pooley, 2008 Olympic time trial silver medallist says, it helps to be ‘a diesel engine’ – someone who can maintain a high effort for a long time without blowing up. ‘It’s painful!’ she admits. Calculating the effort so you reach the finish line without a drop of energy left is an art and time triallists often have to be helped from their bikes at the finish. The difference between a medal and fourth place can be measured in seconds and there’s little margin for error. As Emma says, you should feel you’ve given it everything you possibly can.
Though they travel at speed and concentrate hard, the racers are very aware of spectators – and grateful for any encouragement. ‘It means a lot and hopefully we can do you guys proud!’ says Ben. For Emma, good support ‘warms the heart’. She says: ‘I do a lot of races where there aren’t many spectators, so I’m always so impressed when people come to watch races. So thank you - and sorry about the road closures!’
Kingston has been designated a ‘biking borough’ by the Mayor of London and received extra money to spend on cycling through the Olympics and beyond. Kingston Borough Council (www.kingston.gov.uk/cycling) has subsidised training courses and organised rides for cyclists of all ages and abilities.
Local company, Merry Pedaller, offers rides to various places of interest locally so you can see them from another angle (www.merrypedallerbiketours.co.uk).
Finally, Hampton Wick boasts the successful Team IG Sigma Sport, who will have a representative in the Olympic road race in the form of Namibian Dan Craven. Founded and managed by the Sigma Sport bike shop, the team competes in the UK and internationally and includes some of the UK’s top domestic racing cyclists.
Kingston’s connections with cycle racing go back to the earliest days of the sport. In the 1870s, Surbiton resident John Keen rode a mile in 2 mins 43 secs to be acclaimed ‘the fastest cyclist in the world’. Keen raced professionally in the UK and the United States while also manufacturing his own bicycles in Surbiton and Thames Ditton – and one can be seen on display at the Kingston Museum.
Keen was followed as a manufacturer by F H Carpenter, who built lightweight racing cycles from a workshop in Surbiton Road from the 1930s to the 1960s. Regarded as classics, Carpenters are sought after by collectors and hard to find. There’s a handsome example hanging in the window of Neil’s Wheels in Molesey. Kingston is also home to former racing cyclist and sports administrator Eileen Gray. Now 92, Eileen was a member of the first British women’s cycling team that raced internationally. She went on to become President of the British Cycling Federation, Vice Chair of the British Olympic Committee and even Mayor of Kingston! Eileen will undoubtedly be present throughout the Olympic cycling events.
You don’t have to be a racer to take up one of the fastest-growing activities in the UK. ‘It’s fun and a good way to get places,’ explains Emma Pooley. ‘The bike was invented as form of transport and you see so much more than when you’re in a car while still going a long way, at pace. You see, smell and hear things that you otherwise wouldn’t.’ Sutton-based Olympic medal hopeful Joanna Rowsell stresses the wider benefits of cycling: ‘It’s a great way to keep fit, as well as a very environmentally-friendly way of travelling. Even if you don’t have much time for exercise, you can easily get fitter by cycling to work or school a couple of times a week.’
Thousands of people will be lining the route through the town for all the races, so pick your spot early.
By the time the road races reach Kingston, the 200 riders will be split into groups. It’s the last leg of a gruelling race, but they’ll still be hitting high speeds as they race towards the Mall – and an Olympic gold.
Bushy Park: Straight, fast and very picturesque.
Kingston Bridge: The sharp right onto Kingston Bridge will give a great view of the racers and the Thames provides a lovely backdrop.
Clarence Street: A blur of colour through the town, then a dramatic slowing at the hard left into Fairfield North.
Richmond Park: Teams jockeying for position as they exit the park for the final leg. A beautiful setting, too!
Hampton Court will be all-ticket for the best views of the start/finish. But Bushy Park will provide a lovely place to watch, as will Kingston Bridge. In Hampton Wick, Sigma Sport is running competitions all day while The Foresters Pub serves food and drink. Get down there for a carnival atmosphere.
See the Olympics on the big screen for free at the Rose from 27 July to 5 August.
Read Simon’s cycling blog at www.timeandleisure.co.uk/blog