Bicycles in Beijing

The Block 8 Blog – direct from Oakley’s bunker base in Beijing

“There are nine million bicycles in Beijing. That’s a fact,” sang Georgian-British chanteuse Katie Melua. But I have to disagree with her: there are at least nine million in the square kilometre around where Procycling have been staying in the Chinese capital, causing absolute chaos as taxi drivers half-heartedly try to avoid them.

The British track cycling team won almost as many medals. The final day of competition saw them take two more golds and a silver – Vicky Pendleton in the women’s sprint, and Chris Hoy and Jason Kenny in that order in the men’s event – meaning that they ended up winning seven of the 10 track events on offer.

But the final day also saw the partnership of double gold-medallist Bradley Wiggins – in the individual and team pursuits – and Mark Cavendish unable to repeat their Worlds win earlier this year in the Madison. It meant that Britain only missed out in the three endurance events, with the other two being the men’s and women’s Points races.

However, such dominance by the British has not been seen in too many sports in recent years, so to see the British team – track and road – garnering column inches on the front pages of newspapers is fantastic. Now it’s a case of keeping that momentum going for the good of the sport in the UK.

So that’s it from Beijing, but these Olympics have been something special, and we’ll certainly be back. Don’t think we much fancy our chances having a go on one of those millions of bikes if the traffic was anything to go by, though.

People pedal along at about three miles per hour, on all sorts of contraptions, completely oblivious to the speeding, four-wheeled metal boxes determined to turn across their pedestrian-filled cycle paths.

The smog may never have been a problem – in fact, it doesn’t feel any worse than London – while the humidity in Beijing turned out only to be very bad on the day that the poor riders did the men’s road race. But it doesn’t seem to be the most cycling-friendly city in the world. And don’t get me started on the slip roads that are for cars both exiting and entering – at the same time, which, believe me, is as chaotic as it sounds.

Otherwise, though, Beijing 2008 has been fantastic, both for the sport of cycling and for sport as a whole. London 2012 is going to have its work cut out matching up to the spectacle, and in cycling the Brits can expect to be troubled by nations who will be keen to raise their game. The question is, though, with the benefits of being on home ground, can the British track team make it 10 out of 10 golds in four years’ time?

Ellis Bacon
Author: Ellis Bacon
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