Details have today emerged of the road race route for the 2012 London Olympics. The event looks set to end in spectacular style, with riders sprinting down The Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.
Both the men's and women's races will also start at The Mall, with riders heading from there to the City of Westminster before crossing the River Thames at Putney. As expected, they'll then head to the undulating terrain of the Surrey Hills, south-west of the English capital.
There, they'll follow a figure-of-eight course, with a diversion around Box Hill which could provide a launching pad for breakaway attempts. The peloton will then return to central London via Richmond Park, crossing back over Putney Bridge before a final race through the streets of the city centre towards The Mall. The men will cover 265km, while the women will race over 140km.
The official route of the 2012 Olympic road race (click on the image for a larger version)
A course for Cavendish?
With a relatively flat final 15km, the race could offer Mark Cavendish a prime opportunity for an Olympic gold medal in front of a home crowd. It would be the first true sprinters' finish to an Olympic road race since 1996, when professional riders were allowed to compete for the first time. The past five Olympic road races have been decided by breakaways.
Italy's Fabio Casartelli (Barcelona, 1992), Switzerland's Pascal Richard (Atlanta, 1996), Germany's Jan Ullrich (Sydney, 2000) and Spain's Samuel Sanchez (Beijing, 2008) all took victory from small groups, while Italy's Paolo Bettini claimed his gold medal with a successful solo attack in Athens in 2004.
Similar results have been observed in the women's race, with Australia's Sara Carrigan matching Bettini's solo endeavour and Britain's Nicole Cooke winning from a small group in Beijing.
London proved its ability to host a world-class cycling event when it hosted the Tour de France's Grand Depart in 2007. The Olympic route appears to continue that tradition with the spectator-friendly course designed for 2012.
The route looks set to avoid the controversy faced by organisers of the Beijing Olympic road race, which was criticised by riders and observers alike for the absence of spectators and atmosphere along its course. The sections through London will offer many thousands of people a chance to watch the race, with the Surrey Hills also offering a number of options for fans.
In central London, spectators will enjoy vantage points in the boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, Wandsworth, Richmond and Kingston.
Points of interest on the Olympic route will include Buckingham Palace, Richmond Park, Twickenham, Teddington, Bushy Park and Hampton Court Palace, as well the Surrey districts of Elmbridge, Reigate and Banstead, Guildford and Woking, and Mole Valley. The climb to the top of Box Hill is likely to be one of the most popular vantage points.