The Day the Olympics came to Town (Part One)
I was 39 in July and this year I was given some absolutely brilliant presents. The deal regarding birthday presents is that you can have anything you want but it should be things you don't need. As a consequence I gratefully received the full Team GB cycling kit, short sleeved top, bib shorts and long sleeve jersey. (Adidas sizing is much to be desired though). However the icing on the cake was another gift from my wife; tickets to see the Oympic Men's Road Race at The Mall. It does not get much better than that. Incredibly, she had managed to get them in the original ticket ballot. How lucky was that? How lucky was I more like. The Olympics were in the UK and I would see at least one event in person.
To say the level of expectation was high for Team GB would be an understatement. With the exceptional result that Team Sky, especially messers Wiggins, Cavendish and Froome, had produced a week or so before at the Tour de France, the general consensus was that we were nailed on for a Gold medal. I was the same. All I could do was imagine Cav bomb up the Mall taking the Gold Medal for GB. It would give the team a dream start on Day One. Unfortunately not everyone knew the script.........
We left the house early on Saturday morning with Brendan safely in the hands of our baby-sitter. It was a sunny morning and both myself and my wife Kayren were very excited. We were soon on the train and heading for the 'Big Smoke'. We had been advised to get to The Mall at least two hours prior to the race starting. We sailed through security, then operated by the British Army. We were through without a hitch and able to get straight to the front beside the road. A fortunate piece of timings since we'd arrived at the race sign on. Standing barely 6 feet away were the riders competing in the days event. My camera was out immediately. It was a photo frenzy. That accounted for the first 250 pictures! I got to see Cadel Evans, Andre Griepel, Fabian Cancellara and of course Team GB; Wiggins! Millar! Stannard! Froome! Cavendish! He (Cavendish) was shorter than I expected. It was getting very exciting.
At about 09.50 events started to hot up. The riders started to assemble at the start line. We were about 100 meters away but I had a good view through the camera. The seconds counted down to 10.00. And they were off! The riders coasted down The Mall and I took as many photos as I possibly could. It was a sea of colour, a scene out 0f wacky races with riders weaving in and out of each other. In a moment they had passed our position and were disappearing off towards 9 laps of Box Hill.
For the next 4 hours or so we sat in the sun watching the race unfold on the large screens erected down the length of The Mall. A man serving beer found a couple of very good customers at the 200 meter mark, us, and we sat drinking until he returned and refilled our glasses. As the race wore on we were shouting words of encouragement at the screen and biting our finger nails in equal proportion. It was becoming evident that maybe Team GB might not get a medal after all. Successive attacks came and went but a decisive breakaway occurred on lap 7 of Box Hill and from there the race was lost by GB.
The final few klicks were extremely exciting regardless of who came flying round the top bend first. The motorcycles roared round, followed by a couple of support cars. The cheering was getting louder and louder. Suddenly I could see one rider and then another. They were snaking their way down the Mall using its whole width to race down. They (Vino and Uran) were going toe to toe, but by the time they passed us at the 150 meter mark, Vino had the edge. He pressed home his advantage and went over the line first. moments later the first main group absolutely thundered past. In the end the Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff made it into third place. I could not believe the speed at which they travelled. A few moments later the rest of the peloton that included team GB went past. The camera was going into overtime. I was at 500 photos plus now. Chris Froome cycled past a few minutes later as did a couple of other groups I could not make out. Every rider was clapped in. It had been a great race.
From a results perspective it was disappointing, but as Kayren pointed out, those who raced negatively in the peloton didn't win anything either. They were too fearful of Cav's finish. It was simply too much to ask of the rest of Team GB to ride at the front for 249.7 km when no other team wanted to share the work. Those who decided to make the break took the race into their own hands and in the end that brave decision paid off primarily for Vinokourov and Uran. We stayed for the medal ceremony which was held about 30 minutes after the race had ended, presumably after the dope tests had been completed. It was shame that the riders only made a belated acknowledgement to the crowd at the end. After all they were the folks who'd come to support and cheer the riders on. Nevertheless it was good to see them being awarded for their efforts and especially good to see it in person. We even made it onto one of the big screens for a moment. I was wearing my TdF yellow jersey so I stood in the crowd!
From a shear sense of occasion and general atmosphere, it was amazing. We also saw Boris (Johnson) having a beer besides us taking in the action on one of the big screens. It would have been terrific to see Team GB pick up a medal but it was not to be and that's the way of competitive sport. Regardless, we had still witnessed an Olympic event and it was a fantastic day out. Even my wife who is not a big cycling fan thoroughly enjoyed the day. And what a fabulous birthday present!
If you would like to see a selection of the photos that I took during the day, look at the picture panel on the front page of the bikebritain website. If you want to see more, have a look at the bikebritain Fanpage on Facebook where the majority of the images have now been posted. Feedback is always appreciated.
Words, Thumbnail and Slider image - bikebritain Ltd.