Posted by: Ian | February 20, 2011

Riding the Olympic road race route

Yesterday Emily and I rode the route that the road cycle racers will follow in the 2012 Olympics. An impressionistic map of it has been posted all over the internet but that seems to be deliberately too vague to navigate from. Fortunately, this is supplemented with a gpx file in an article on road.cc. Since that gpx doesn’t come with navigation cues, I recreated it in bikeroutetoaster – you can find this here – and exported an enriched course file to my Garmin 800.

If you check it out you’ll discover that my course as plotted on bikeroutetoaster ends on the return to Richmond Park. This is because BRT doesn’t allow you to backtrack along a course. It isn’t a major problem for me because I much prefer circular courses and hadn’t even discovered this limitation before – but what a pain when you do want to backtrack!

Emily and I met in North West London and cycled to the gates on The Mall where the Olympic route begins and ends. In no time at all we were on the Fulham Road where, opposite the Royal Marsden Hospital, we found a little cafe that served very decent coffee, good muffins and passable scrambled eggs on toast. The hot breakfast was extremely welcome but it wasn’t a complete antidote to the rain and the surprisingly cold morning.

The route continued down to Putney and across the Thames, where instead of turning right, as you probably would if you devised your own route, it continues on until the turn t0 Upper Richmond Road. Throughout most of the day we relied on the navigation cues from my Garmin to direct us. Fortunately, at this point we still knew where we were supposed to go because the Garmin course instruction was signalling Straight on at exactly the same moment as the Garmin navigation was telling me to make a U turn; the correct direction was to turn right. If you look, as I have since, at the Cue Sheet for the course I linked to above on BRT and zoom in a lot you’ll see that there’s some confusion around Putney Bridge that must have crept in when I created it.

Richmond Park and then Bushy Park were welcome breaks from the otherwise busy roads. As we pushed out into Surrey the theme of keeping to the most major roads available continued. In fact, the most notable feature of the route for me was the route that it wasn’t: you can cross London as far as Hampton Court by using quiet roads and the Thames path but the Olympic route takes the A roads; there are some lovely transitional roads leading from north Surrey to the Surrey Hills, which the Olympic route largely (but not quite completely) avoids; and the Surrey Hills themselves form one of the prime cycling areas in the South East – but instead the Olympic route takes the A25 that skirts to the north of it, just a block away from the pretty stuff. Obviously the Olympic route has to be fit for a large peloton to zip swiftly along, with the attendant caravan of support vehicles and Olympic-scale banks of spectators. The scenic route isn’t feasible.

Just after midday we arrived at the Wotton Hatch in perfect time for lunch. I know the pub well from years spent living in nearby Cranleigh and it was ideal: great food (excellent sausage and mash for me and spiced apple crumble for both of us) in a huge comfortable room that separates diners who want to turn up in smart clothes from scruffy bikers and cyclists in wet gear that demands drying over radiators and an open fire. We stayed for well over an hour, giving the rain time to stop for the afternoon’s riding.

Continuing into Dorking along the A25 and out via the A24 we came to Box Hill. This is the most noted section of the course since (1) it’s not on an A road and (2) it’s a hill. Getting off the A24 was most welcome and Box Hill is indeed rural (Surrey-rural would be more precise – there’s no danger of missing the cars that lumber up to the numerous car parks). The hill is very tame – I span up easily in my big chain ring; I slipped down to the smaller ring only once, and briefly, all the day on the earlier ascent of Newlands Corner (the beauty spot, also well provisioned with car parks, where Agatha Christie staged her own mysterious disappearance). To be fair, the Olympians will do the circuit around Box Hill several times to bulk up the miles and we only did it once. Even so, the second most notable feature of the route to me was how flat it is – I couldn’t image that you could cycle 80 miles and encounter so little incline. For comparison, the Glastonbury 100 miler, which was billed as “relatively flat”, had 4,300 feet of ascent compared to the 3,200 feet we climbed on this route.

Passing close to Hampton Court on the return I had a puncture. I was glad that it had come relatively late in the day and we shared a scone as I patched it.

In Richmond Park my BRT route ran out, as I knew it would, at the point where the route backtracks. With Garmin direction at an end, Emily, who cycles out to Richmond Park quite frequently, led us back a slightly different way. The Garmin had done well in navigating us. I had set it up to keep in view the distance to the next course point, which had been helpful. There were only one or two times when we’d needed to stop and check where we were being sent, and I did have to ignore it once when it directed me along a slip road onto the M25. Otherwise it was great and restored some of my faith in it after the recent schizoid conflicts I’ve seen between the Garmin’s courses and the corresponding navigation cues.

On the ride into London we encountered the absurdity of late Saturday afternoon traffic. Kingston was completely gridlocked and the Kings Road wasn’t much better. Cycling around the near stationary cars, I passed a black Lamborghini. With a deep feline growl it soon caught us up and overtook me before lurching to a more conclusive stop at the next phase of the car jam; I re-passed it and never saw it again. I don’t envy either police or motorists when the Olympics come to town.

Finally, we sprinted up The Mall to our course conclusion at the gates. I felt a little guilty, as I had all day, that I was not only on the faster bike (see what the Van Nicholas website has to say about Emily’s Yukon and my Astraeus – we’ll be posting our own reviews quite soon) but while Emily carried a pile of stuff in her pannier, I carried no more than a wedgie bag and water bottles.

From The Mall we cycled up to a Starbucks to have a reviving coffee. Upon leaving Starbucks I found that I had a second puncture. Stupidly, and for reasons too dreary to repeat, I was riding with a road-appropriate Schwalbe Ultremo DD on my front wheel and a GP4000S on my rear. The GP4000S is a great summer tyre but very prone to punctures in winter on crappy London roads. It’s punctured yet again today and after fixing it, again, this evening I picked an unbelievable number of glass and stone shards out of the as-yet-recently-unpunctured Ultremo DD.

Immediately after I’d re-patched my tube, Emily and I filled the nutritional gap left by breakfast, lunch and coffee with fish and chips. With our rides to and from the start we’d done over 90 miles of cycling so we’d earned our supper. For the record, the Olympic ride, ex getting to and from the start, scores 139 difficulty points. Although it’s not my preferred kind of ride, keeping to main roads with few hills made for a very enjoyable and relaxing day’s cycling that I could imagine doing again if I spent my weekends in London rather than Somerset.

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Responses

  1. Hi, instead of you using BRT, you should try ridewithgps. It lets you backtrack upon yourself

  2. Great article, and a great ride too by the sounds of it – you even got to experience the weather that the women’s race faced! I’ve been planning a long summer ride soon and, as the 5K Runner says, we should be having a go at this route, especially Londoners like me.

    • Thanks! If you get a chance to do it while the Olympics are still on the roads around London are as quiet as they get, as you have probably seen yourself.

  3. Reblogged this on the5krunner and commented:
    Doing this route at some point must be a MUST for all cyclists. Read this article to tell you a bit about the route and follow the link for the Garmin GPX file to follow it on your Garmin as you pedal. http://road.cc/sites/default/files/olympic_mens_250km_0.gpx

  4. thanks for this Ian, I’m planning on doing the route some time before the real thing now that the roads have been resurfaced. http://road.cc/sites/default/files/olympic_mens_250km_0.gpx i think is the gpx file you used. Will this reliably get me from the mall round box and and back to richmond gate? I plan to use either a 910XT or 310XT and have heard they sometimes crash when following routes…so not sure if i should take a real ma as well!

    • Hi. I’m afraid I can’t see the GPX you link to on my iPad. The actual file I used was generated from the BRT route that I linked to in the blog. I uploaded this to my Garmin 800 and got round the entire route without trouble, following the directions. It’s a good ride and I hope you enjoy it. Best, Ian

  5. […] I had a great year’s cycling in 2011, which, at the turn of the New Year, leads to the question of how to capture the same pleasure from it in 2012 and also explore new cycling territory. 2011 itself contained repeats from 2010 – the fabulous Tour of Wessex, some great long rides in the South West, Blenheim, the Exmoor Beast, weekly loops round Regent’s Park – and some innovations – outstanding riding in Corsica, my first audax, the very enjoyable Engadin Radmarathon, a preview ride round the Olympics road race route. […]


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