London Olympic Games officials predicted exciting contests for the men's and women's road race gold medals, following the official launch of the race route in Surry, England on Thursday.
The London Olympic Games Committee's cycling director Simon Lillistone told Cyclingnews that the route had been designed so as to ensure a thrilling race in both the women's and men's events. The latter is scheduled to open competition at the Games when it starts 10:00 am on July 28, 2012.
"I think its going to be a great course for the riders and the teams. It's going to be a technical and very tactical course. I think that 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 the men's and women's races will start and finish in front of Buckingham Palace, in central London. However the route's loop through the Surrey Hills is expected to play the biggest role in the final result.
Riders will make their way from central London towards Surrey, southwest 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. The total distance of men's race will be 250km with the women to complete 140km.
With teams limited to five riders, the course will pose a significant tactical challenge, especially to those teams hoping to control the race for a sprint finish in front of the Palace. The UCI's push to ban race radios could also affect tactics, with the hilly terrain around Surry likely to make judging a breakaway's advantage difficult. Lillistone said LOCOG had consulted the UCI during the planning of the course.
"I think there are different types of challenges. This is something I've discussed with the UCI's director of sport and [UCI President] Pat McQuaid quite a lot," said Lillistone. "This course has physical challenges - okay, they're not alpine climbs - but with teams limited to five riders they will 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 will be unfamiliar to them."
Lillistone confirmed that spectators had also been considered in the planning of the route, 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 also create a carnival atmosphere normally reserved for events such as the World Championships.
"I think culturally we've got a massive following in cycling in this country. The British team's road success is certainly following nicely in the success of the track team, so I making the race accessible was a big priority and a major factor in why we brought the race to southwest London and into Surrey," he said.
With a confidentiality agreement around the route now lifted, both LOCOG and local authorities expressed their relief that preparations for the event can now get underway. Surrey authorities confirmed to Cyclingnews that road surface improvement programs will now be brought forward to ensure the quality of race facilities.
Surrey County Council Cabinet member Denise Saliagopoulos told Cyclingnews 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," she said. "You can imagine how young people in Surrey, those that don't cycle, even adults, will be encouraged to get on their bikes.
"LOCOG would not necessarily let us know the route they were considering, but we're very happy with the route they've selected."