Feature: Time to party on Box Hill

Olympic cycle race on Box Hill brings on the feel good factor as massive event brings people together

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by Paul Burgoine

I have to admit I was a bit sceptical about the Olympics right up to the day I watched the torch relay. It was then I realised how this massive event can bring communities together and have a positive impact on people’s moods.

So when me and my daughter left on Friday to go to the High Ashurst camp site near Box Hill for the Road Races, to say we were looking forward to it was an understatement.

The camp site was fantastic, about half an hour’s walk to the top of the climb. The only set back was we only had the inside of the tent and no fly sheet or pegs…. Just as well I packed the small two man tent; once this disaster was averted, we set out to explore the area.

This included a walk down through Box Hill village that was in the process of being decorated, Red, white and blue by the residents. Our mission was to find the giant Olympic rings that were nestled at the top of Box Hill’s zig – zags before we found them we were misdirected to the base of the hill meaning we had to crawl our way back to the top and a crawl is no exaggeration. But once there the views were stunning.

Once my partner arrived, we just had time to get down to the local to watch the opening ceremony on a big screen. The pub was a Country & Western themed bar. Apparently they had two types of music Country & Western & Blues Brothers. While watching the superb entertainment, my daughter and partner being multicultural, chose a Mexican brand of beer as their chosen tipple. After the ceremony and watching teams from ‘made up’ countries enter the stadium we eventually made our way back to the camp site well after midnight in total darkness…. never experienced in London.

Our journey was made slightly easier by the wind up torch that omitted a small amount of light!

We picked up another couple along the way who were also staggering home. Once at the camp site my partner realised she was locked out of her wig-wam so all three of us squeezed into the two man tent. After a sleepless night, it was time to get down to Box Hill Village to plot up for the men’s road race. There was a buzz around Box Hill village I have never experienced at a British bike race before. It was like everybody was on happy pills, even the Police.

The reports that the locals were unhappy about the event being in their back yard seemed unfounded on my evidence. The whole of Surrey seemed to be embracing the Olympics and we were even made cups of tea by Susie and her husband Brett. Even their huge dog was dressed for the occasion – hopefully not in preparation for meeting Philippe Gilbert.

My flag took pride of place on Susie and Brett’s front lawn, as the hours passed the excitement grew and the crowd levels swelled, everything and everyone who passed were getting cheers. You would be mistaken for thinking you were at one of the spring classics in Flanders, although there seemed to be as many non cycling fans as there were cycling fans all hoping for a Cavendish win.

News came over the radio that there was a twelve man break, and as they crested the hill, the place went crazy. The break was followed five minutes behind by the main bunch being towed along by ‘Wiggo’ and a lot of people seemed stunned by the speed of the riders and even more so by the support cars.

I have to admit I was in my element, cheering the riders through and it wasn’t only the stars people supported. In fact, the most encouragement was saved for a rider from Iran who was almost immediately isolated but kept plugging on probably due to the support he received. The Police and National Escort Group bike riders were enjoying the occasion and seemed to be having as much fun as the spectators.

At one point, we were invaded by some Dutch fans with big flags, not having that I thought so my monster pole was raised from its stake and draped over the road dwarfing the Dutch ones. The highlight of the men’s race for me was seeing Philippe Gilbert launching his lone attack.

Once the race had passed nine times, we were left to hear over the radio Alexandro Vinokorov had outsprinted Rigoberto Uran to take the Gold Medal much to the disappointment of the crowd but given his many attempts to win a stage at the Tour, it was no surprise. He was probably helped by Fabian Cancellara’s comedy crash at the newly named Cancellara Corner.

Day two and a slightly later start for the women and on the face of it another beautiful summer’s day. We had tickets for Strawberry Slope at the top of the zig-zags. Security was a pleasant experience with the Army also in high spirits and carrying out the checks at speed.

I have to admit the area is beautiful and I can fully understand why it needs to be protected but the limited numbers of spectators on the most exciting parts of the circuit seemed to be a bit of a shame. I have to admit the free areas enjoyed the better atmosphere.

It wasn’t long before the weather took a turn for the worse and heavy rain set in. But in true British spirit it didn’t damped the enthusiasm. Urgent action was needed so a trip to the bins to collect some bin liners for protection, on the hill we were treated to commentary and the women’s race was most defiantly more exciting and action packed than the men’s with constant attacks from the Dutch and GB’s pocket rocket Emma Pooley who worked tirelessly to set the race up for Lizzie Armitstead.

Once the girls had completed their final accent of Box Hill, we hot footed it up to Donkey Green to watch the final 30 kilometres of the race and what a finale it was” Marriane Vos (Ned) and Lizzie Armitstead (GBR) with Olga Zabelinskaya (RUS) breaking away from the field and treating us to a nail biting ride.

You could feel the tension as the riders hit The Mall, then the crowd exploded, screaming Lizzie on, followed by rapturous cheers as she won a silver medal with the favourite for the race Vos taking the win. This was a great race by the British girls constantly attacking and chasing in challenging weather conditions.

I have to admit this was by far a more exciting race and a good advert for women’s racing that is very underrated, under reported and does not get nearly enough TV coverage. Let’s hope this race goes someway to repairing this. The whole weekend was fantastic probably the best weekend of cycling ever. Yes there were some hic-ups and some things that could have been done better but the pro’s most defiantly outweighed the cons.



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