London 2012 Olympic Games officials have predicted exciting contests for the men's and women's road cycling gold medals, following the official launch of the race route in Surrey today.
The London Organising Committee's (LOCOG) cycling director Simon Lillistone told BikeRadar that the course – details of which emerged earlier this week – would be "technical and very tactical".
"The fact that the riders are coming across new roads all the time, not just one big circuit, will mean it's not familiar to them and will be a big factor in the final result," he said.
Both races will start and finish in front of Buckingham Palace, with the men's event scheduled to open competition at the Games when it begins at 10am on July 28. Riders will make their way from central London towards Surrey, south-west of the city, where they will race a short, but hilly circuit in the area around Box Hill.
The men's race will include nine loops of the Box Hill circuit, with the women to complete five circults, and it's this stage of the race that's expected to play the biggest role in the final result. The total distance of the men's race will be 250km, with the women to complete 140km.
This is the confirmed route of the men's and women's road races (click on the image for a larger version)
With teams limited to five riders, the course will pose a significant tactical challenge, especially for those squads hoping to control the race for a sprint finish in front of the Palace. The International Cycling Union's (UCI) push to ban race radios could also affect tactics, with the hilly terrain in Surrey likely to make judging a breakaway's advantage difficult.
"There are different types of challenges," said Lillistone. "This is something I've discussed with the UCI's director of sport and [UCI president] Pat McQuaid quite a lot. This course has physical challenges – okay, they're not Alpine climbs, but with teams limited to five riders they'll have to work very hard to protect the team leader until the key moment. It's going to be quite a nervous race – narrow roads, wide roads, tight corners – and, like I said, it'll be unfamiliar to them."
Lillistone confirmed that spectators had been considered in the planning of the course, with thousands of fans expected to line the route for both the men's and women's races. With the road races one of only a handful of ticket-free events, cycling fans from Europe could join in to create a carnival atmosphere normally reserved for events such as the World Championships.
"Culturally, we've got a massive following in cycling in this country," said Lillistone. "The British team's road success is certainly following nicely in the success of the track team, so making the race accessible was a big priority and a major factor in why we brought the race to south-west London and into Surrey."
With a confidentiality agreement around the route now lifted, both LOCOG and local authorities expressed their relief that preparations for the event can get underway. Surrey authorities confirmed to BikeRadar that road surface improvement programmes will be brought forward. "LOCOG wouldn't necessarily let us know the route they were considering," said Surrey County Council cabinet member Denise Saliagopoulos. "But we're very happy with the route they've selected."
The impact of the road races on local communities is expected to continue well after the Games. "For local people to have an Olympic Games road race on the first two days of the Games is very exciting for them," Mrs Saliagopoulos added. "You can imagine how young people in Surrey, those who don't cycle, even adults, will be encouraged to get on their bikes."