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Monday, 30 July 2012

Olympic Cycling Mens Road Race 2012

The trouble with having a job that is also your hobby, is every now and again, out of choice, you go and basically work for free. Given that this was the nearest to the Olympic site in london that I wanted to get - going over to Dorking to take photos of the Mens Cycling Road race was my only option to see some top level sport and also to put my professional skills to the test.

Knowing the roads around the area, and seeing the route, I drove to a small village south of Dorking and then cycled with my 17kg photo kit on my back up Flint Hill, past the centre of town, down the actual route from the town (well the cycle path was blocked with pedestrians) to some muted cheers from the assembled masses (which was nice), then along the shut A24 up to the area I had planned to get some good fast action - an area of downhill roads with good views and where the bikes went past 8 times.

Here's my route and locations:
Only about a 5 mile ride, on a tractor of a bike with the wrong tyres and a saddle that's too low. Never mind - it got me there and back !

I went home and watched the race again on the BBC iPlayer - trying to figure out what had happened on the laps around Box Hill and how the breakaway managed to give the peloton the slip. A peloton which on each lap the British team were spearheading on each and every lap, followed by the Germans - who only got in the front four by mistake when they weren't paying attention. And every now and again the Belgians found themselves to close to the front too.

Basically it was the GB cycling squad making the chase and load of others not wanting to let them give Cavendish a chance. They had to make it away from the Peloton without the GB squad - because if there was just a peloton at the end - Cavendish was odds-on to win.

The GB strategy was to arrive at the finish and chase down any breakaways with the lead 4 putting in the work to slingshot Cavendish at the finish.  The one small problem was it was GB 4+Cav+Peloton chasing 24 cyclists in the final breakaway who were all putting in a fair share of the effort.

The final 24 were never going to be caught by a team of 4 - just consider the relative work effort and work share at the front, and it was never going to be done without the rest of the peloton taking a turn.

It seems the breakaway group that made it ahead before Dorking kept roughly in front by about 23 seconds on each lap, and a few efforts and a mini break that tried to catch them from the peloton got ahead for 10 seconds but that got caught by the peloton before lap 8, meant there was only the one climb left before the return to Leatherhead and back into london. A gap of 23 seconds to bridge, and only one climb left.

I think it was on the final climb that the final winner Kazakstans' VINOKUROV Alexandr 
managed to bridge the gap from the Peloton to the breakaway group, and then work his way to take the victory.
With the flat roads on the way back from Leatherhead it was too fast to catch , and the gap grew to 40 seconds - knowledge that fortunately Elizabeth Armitstead said she was able to put into practise to her advantage on Sunday to win Silver.

Team GB being followed, with the odd German getting lost
Getting the size of the crowds - not a square foot spare

Cavendish under Bradley Wiggins wing as the front two of David Millar and Ian Stannard (off picture) discuss tactics

Cavendish, Froome turning to talk to him (behind Wiggins) Wiggins, Confused German, Millar (shouting at Stannard)

Cavendish cups his ear to listen to Froomes tactics
"you what?" Cavendish listening for team tactics

Froome takes a bite out of his thumb to refuel, whilst Wiggins, Stannard and Millar provide the engine to drag Cavendish along to the planned ideal finish.

The lead group, of which Alexander Kristoff (at the back in red) made it to Bronze.

The TV cameramen swap jokes on the way round

Rolf Harris was on the motorbike and was showing sketches to the peloton to help take their mind of things

Cavendish kept in place ready for his chance later

Things get a bit busy when the peloton passes

The police Bikers got into the spirit of the race, despite his numberplate.

Belgian Philippe Gilbert had a quick go off the front to see how he'd get on. Not for long.

The GB team again leading the pack, this time with a lost Austrian

Wiggins and Millar leading out
This is my favourite shot of the day, Wiggins and the GB team leading the peloton, Union Flag at the side, and the eventual Gold medallist Alexandr Vinokurov at the head of the rest, just before the last climb up Box Hill. Sums up the race really.
I need to go back through my images to see if I did get the silver medal Rigoberto Uran Uran from Columbia (bike 52).
Here's the results

It was a long day - out taking shots for about 3 hours in quite strong sun, with a 5 mile ride each end, and a 17kg pack. 3ltrs of water and I was still dehydrated, all for 8 chances at the shot. I think my main conclusion - chasing around the Tour de France without a local motorbike rider and going pillion would be a pretty high-risk strategy to try to get plenty of shots. I think I learnt a new level of respect for those photographers.

And next time - I wouldn't take the heavy long lens, or the second camera. That would have halved my pack weight!

Right, I hope you enjoy the rest of the Olympics, I'll next be at the Milland Valley half-ish marathon - which should be good fun next sunday. See you there - down the end of the A3 -
See you there ?

Until next time,


  1. Sounds like you had great fun :0). And the photos are fab.

  2. Nice pictures Ant - like your Rolf Harris comment!
    looks like we were just up the road from you, no camera for me though, two kids and food for the day was enough luggage

    - the lost Austrian was Bernie Eisel, Cav's teammate from Sky - "recruited" to help for the day!