4 years ago, almost exactly to the day, an incredible event happened in London, that I know at least our generation will never forget. It seemed to me that everyone was involved in some way or another, either as volunteers, torch bearers, athletes, organisers, vendors or, of course, the millions of spectators.
This event was, of course, the London 2012 Olympics. A sporty fever seemed to ooze through the veins of the country, and everyone was enthused to pick up a sport they had stopped, or take something up for the first time, or continue to play a sport with renewed passion. And this passion for doing sport was infectious, and grew and grew. It seemed only right then that this nationwide love for sport should continue long after the closing ceremony and fireworks had ceased.
At the time, we could not afford to go to huge numbers of events at the park itself like some of my friends. However, we are extremely fortunate in living on the Olympic cycle route through London and Surrey, and our house was full on the night before the road cycling race, with friends and relatives who had not been able to get tickets to a specific Olympic event itself coming to catch a glimpse of famous cyclists whizzing by, and to get in on some of the Olympic action. We had cohorts from the Isle of Man, who brought with them large flags, small flags, wearable flags and banners with flags, to support Mark Cavendish and we set ourselves up on the grassy verge on the side of the road with flags a-plenty to mark out our territory. We brought a huge picnic for everyone to share, and stood waiting in anticipation for the cyclists to come by. Our main entertainment came from the fact that someone had a phone with a forward facing camera (still a pretty new thing then), and we could occupy ourselves with filling this poor man’s storage with attractive (and not so attractive) selfies.
One by one, and with an ever increasing frequency, police motorcycles would zoom past, heightening the excitement of the crowd who cheered and cheered at whoever came past, whether it was a motorcycle, support vehicle, medical team, van with spare wheels in etc. Suddenly, a procession was upon us, with news cameras, and all the aforementioned vehicles, Olympic team coaches and sponsors. And finally – what we had all been waiting for – the cyclists.
The breakaway group went past, in a blur of colour and screaming. Eyes strained to see who the frontrunners were, but to no avail, their speed was too fast. We waited again. Nothing. Silence. Then a siren of the police motorcycle and media signalled the approaching peloton. Within seconds, in a flash of lycra, sweat and cheering, they were gone. For us, at least, the race was over.
But everyone’s needs were very much fulfilled. We caught our glimpse of Mark Cavendish for the IOM crowds, and everyone else could say with absolute certainty that they had been part of the Olympic events. I loved it. But we returned back to the house with a subdued atmosphere, not because of the events we had seen, but because we realised with all certainty that we would probably never have the chance to see anything like this again.
But we should not have been so downhearted. The British really can triumph sometimes, and it seemed that road cycling was an event that had hit the nation with a vigour stronger than any other. This was not only demonstrated by the huge number of spectators who turned out to support the event, but the numbers who proceeded to take up road cycling for themselves and the increase in cycling club popularity and membership following the Olympics. It seemed like Britain had found her sport. A sport that everyone could participate in, no matter how old or young. A sport that could get people who had never been enthused by sport before, up and pedalling to the shops. A sport that didn’t have to be done on a huge scale, or with lots of fancy equipment. A sport that you could do in your everyday life, whether that be cycling to work, school, the shops, the library, the station and many more. A sport that could get the whole nation fit again.
And so it was, that 2013 saw one of the greatest legacies of the 2012 Olympics, was born, the London cycling campaign to get people cycling safely, and more often. Since the games, this campaign has included cycle-hire schemes across London, affectionately nicknamed ‘Boris Bikes,’ and recently, the building of cycle superhighways which are effectively separate 2-way roads for cyclists alongside the large vehicular roads in London.
However, one of the greatest assets to this campaign was the Prudential Ride London event. This event is similar to the London Marathon, and involves shutting all the roads on the original Olympic cycle route, and allowing amateur cyclists, professional cyclists, and anyone who wants to, to cycle around London and Surrey, following in the footsteps of Olympians and raising money for charity. There are separate events for children and families and anyone who just wants to give it a go (the FreeCycle) which takes you on an 8 mile loop around iconic sights in London, for injured servicemen and veterans (the Handcycle Grand Prix), for young aspiring cyclists (the youth Grand Prix for 8-16 year olds and the Surrey London 46 for those 16-18), for people raising money for charity and who want a challenge (the Surrey London 100 – the 100 mile main event), for women professional cyclists (the Classique) and for male professional cyclists (the Classic). There really is something for everyone to get involved in.
This year over 30 000 people participated in the events, of which 26 000 were entered for the Surrey London 100. This is a staggering number of people, and marks the Prudential Ride London out as one of the world’s leading road cycling events, and a lasting legacy of the 2012 Olympic games. Millions of pounds are raised for charity, and tens of thousands get cycling. What more could be asked of such an event?
This year I was able to walk down to town and join in the support there. Due to commitments at Church in the evening, I was only able to go to support the RideLondon Surrey 100, and this time I did not get to see the professionals. But for me, seeing the professionals was not what the event was about. I wanted to be there to support the thousands ordinary people, from up and down the country, who had decided to participate, mostly for charity. The cyclists had just finished the wearying climb of Box Hill, and were just 20 miles from the end. To see their faces light up as they were met with a wave of cheers, entering our village festival zone in a constant stream was something to behold, and made being there far more worthwhile than the Olympic race.
Music was blaring, the sun was shining, the big screen showed the latest news, interviews and tweets from the race, hot dogs were cooking on the pavement, people were cheering and drinking Pimms. My Mum joined me to have brunch, and we were able to sit outside, and watch cyclists entering the town. It was beyond addictive, and we were loathed to drag ourselves away from the lycra and festivities, even after 3 hours of spectating. However, we made it back just in time to watch the start of the men’s Classic race on TV. I was gripped to it all afternoon, until we had to leave.
Every year, people grumble about the roads closing, not being able to get anywhere and being trapped in all for some petty cyclists. But every year, more on more people turn out to watch an amazing event and support those riding. I am reminded every year, what a privilege it is to live on this route, to be part of the legacy of 2012 and what a great thing it is that we have got the nation cycling. Perhaps one day I’ll try one of the events myself, but for now, I’ll stay a fervent supporter of road cycling, of everyday cycling and of the legacy of the 2012 Olympics. And above all, I hope that the games in Rio may change their population as it has certainly changed ours.
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