20 August 2011

Watching a pro-cycling race

Last weekend, we decided to check out the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, yet another event of the London Prepares series. The race took the route of next year's Olympic road race, except the peloton only did two laps of Box Hill, rather than the nine that the men will do next year.

The Olympic route starts and finishes on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, and goes through Richmond Park (fast becoming a favourite) both on exit and entry from London, then does a loop through Surrey. We thought we'd go watch the race from there since we know it well and we predicted there would be a good atmosphere of machacas there.

We caught the train to Richmond in time to watch the peloton come through on their return to the mall; the riders would have about 20km left in the race at that point. A fellow spectator told us that he had watched the riders leave west London earlier in the morning and there had been a breakaway of four riders, about a minute ahead of the peloton, so we were excited to find out how the race would look at this point so close to the finish line.

We knew the riders were nearby when a series of cars and motorbikes came flying past. First was a race radio car with loudspeakers on top. As it went by, it broadcast the current status of the race, so we heard that there were still two men in the breakaway and they were about 20 seconds ahead. Then several police motorbikes came past, from all across the UK, followed by the cars of the race officials and other important figures.

Finally, we saw two riders coming around the curve in front of us. We cheered them on and waited for the peloton which were knew were right behind them (they had even cleared the race vehicles from between them, a sure sign that  the peloton were going to catch up any minute now. The peloton flew by, team GB at the front, and it was all over in a few seconds.

The breakaway

The peloton
Many people in the crowd started crossing the road and leaving, while the race marshals (who are also practicing for next year!) tried to remind us that we hadn't seen the sweep vehicle come past yet. People were milling about, standing in the road, wandering off, when all of a sudden a second group of riders came into view in the distance! The marshals started frantically trying to get everyone out of the road, just in time for the second peloton, almost as big as the first, to come past. We were left wondering what could have possibly happened to split the peloton like that. Was there a crash that held people back, or maybe its just that there were two types of pro-riders on this race, the world class ones like Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar, and the middling racers who ride for smaller trade teams.

Surprise! Peloton number 2!

After the excitement of the second peloton, we waited around and watched a few more small groups of riders come around the bend. There was a long gap where no one came past... except for some normal Richmond Park machacas who had somehow managed to get on the road without being stopped by a marshall--the crowd was cheering them on unwittingly! During all this time, the marshals didn't have any more information than the spectators, except they knew that the sweep vehicle had not come past yet. Finally, a marshal somehow heard that there were two riders at the back, who had been involved in a crash. We waited for this last rider, gave him as much encouragement as we could muster, and watched the sweep vehicle come past.

It was more excitement than we had planned for and a lot of fun to watch the pros in action. Although I do hope they sort out the communication with the marshals for the next time around!

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