Absence with leave……..
Yes, I am one of the millions who unsuccessfully applied for Olympic tickets and failed to secure even one. However, not to be cowed by defeat nor to let LOCOG have the final say, I filled the saddlebag, bridled the steed, engaged cleats with pedals and headed south to stay with one of my brothers, who quite handily lived just 5 miles from the much vaunted circuit of Box Hill. The event being the men’s Olympic cycle road race, of course, followed the next day by the women’s event over the same course.
The thousands that lined the route, on the stretches permitted on the Box Hill circuit, were a motley crowd made up of hardened roadies, mountain bikers, occasional leisure cyclists, family groups with
small children and (probably the majority) people who had little idea of what road racing was all about, but had simply turned up just for the buzz. Many had walked long distances because cars had been banned from the area. In the inner recesses of the circuit, around Zig Zag hill, the road had been closed for three days, and the roads leading up to it were closed and locked down from 4am that morning. So, to be a roadside fan needed a degree of commitment and endurance.
The great thrill for me was the opportunity to build in a 227 mile (366 kms) round trip, see some of both races, be on The Mall for the finish of the women’s race and see Lizzie Armitstead take silver, and stay my final night with another brother on his houseboat on the River Lea. The bicycle is such a versatile mode of transport. Good for taking me the 105 miles down to Epsom, excellent for wending my way for 25 miles along the Thames Cycleway into the centre of the city, perfect for getting across the city,
and on my way out of London I was clear of the city within an hour, meandering through country lanes, stumbling across hidden bits of English history in tiny hamlets.
Ayot St Lawrence, to mention just one hamlet, with its legendary connections with the writer George Bernard Shaw, the church that was secretly dismantled by a local nobleman, to be replaced by a shockingly misplaced Palladian church that did not quite fit its environment. And then if that wasn´t enough for such a tiny community, it´s only pub lives with the haunting history of a Catholic priest who had been tried and executed within its walls. Astonishing that so much could have taken place amongst such a small cluster of houses.
The racing confraternity can entertain us with their speed and feats of endurance, but the humble leisure cyclist can also delight in taking the road less travelled. That, to me, is the fundamental attraction of the bicycle.