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Anger as cycling bosses bid to shelve Olympic cycling route

PUBLISHED: 16:54 30 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:20 07 September 2010

Ben McPartland A SHOWPIECE event in the London 2012 Olympics is set to be moved away from Hampstead and Highgate. In what would be a huge blow to residents and sports fans, the route for road cycling races – which had been planned to circle Hampstead Hea

Ben McPartland

A SHOWPIECE event in the London 2012 Olympics is set to be moved away from Hampstead and Highgate.

In what would be a huge blow to residents and sports fans, the route for road cycling races - which had been planned to circle Hampstead Heath - looks certain to be moved elsewhere.

The International Cycling Union wants to move the bulk of the race outside the capital altogether, after the example set by the Beijing Olympics last year.

Residents will be dismayed at the possibility of losing the chance to see Olympic athletes pass their doorsteps after the powerful cycling union asked the organisers of London 2012 to look again at the proposed course.

Catherine Budgett-Meakin, chairwoman of the Highgate Society, pleaded with the authorities not to give in.

She said: "They should not even think about changing the route. People will be so disappointed. This would have put us on the map and people all over the world would have seen what an attractive area it is. It is such a suitable venue for this event.

"We have so many schools in the area and all the children would be fascinated by the road race."

Jean Dollimore, joint co-ordinator of the Camden Cycling Campaign, said: "It would be a great disappointment to people not to have the event here. We have all been excited and talking about what can be improved for people coming to watch it. The road race really increases the interest in cycling."

The original route for the London 2012 race was set to follow the course of the 2006 Tour of Britain, which went from Regent's Park, through Primrose Hill and Kentish Town, up the daunting Highgate West Hill and around the Heath in what was called the King of the Mountains section.

After the event organisers and riders, including Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins, heralded the success of the London leg of the tour after thousands of spectators lined the roads.

Keen cyclist Bob Speller, who is the caretaker at Hampstead Parochial School, watched the event in Highgate West Hill.

He said: "It was brilliant. The crowds were great but they will not go out of town to watch the race. Cycling is big at the moment and they should leave the race in London and not put it out in the sticks. If they can hold the rest of the Olympics in London then why not the cycling race?"

If the route is altered, the area could lose out financially by missing out on cash to spruce up the roads. Whitestone Pond, which was on the original course, is due to be given a huge makeover with the Olympics in mind.

However, Tony Hillier, the chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, was not so upset by the revelation. He said: "I don't think the event is vital for the well-being of this part of the world. The aspect that most people are interested in is whether there are grants of one sort or another to upgrade features along the route, which would be of long-lasting value."

A spokeswoman for the London 2012 Organising Committee said: "The road cycling route for the London 2012 Olympic Games was scheduled to go from Regent's Park through Hampstead and Highgate.

"Following the road cycling competition in Beijing in 2008, where the race started at Tiananmen Square and went out of the city to the Great Wall, the International Cycling Union (UCI) has asked the London 2012 Organising Committee to re-examine the route.

"They would like the route to start at a more central part of London and move out of the city. We are in discussions with the UCI about what this route might be and will undergo a full process of consultation about any proposed changes in due course."

See Comment, page 16

ben.mcpartland@hamhigh.co.uk

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