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Olympic road race: spectacle or disaster?

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The peloton flashes past Buckingham Palace.

The peloton flashes past Buckingham Palace. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The British and Spanish teams set the early tempo.

The British and Spanish teams set the early tempo. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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The police motos ready for the start

The police motos ready for the start (Image credit: Sirotti)
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Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) outsprints Rigoberto Uran (Colombia).

Alexandre Vinokourov (Kazakhstan) outsprints Rigoberto Uran (Colombia). (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Mark Cavendish was the favourite but his Great Britain team couldn't control the race.

Mark Cavendish was the favourite but his Great Britain team couldn't control the race. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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David Millar and Great Britain were unable to control the race as they had wished.

David Millar and Great Britain were unable to control the race as they had wished. (Image credit: Bettini Photo)
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Bradley Wiggins' handlebar set up for the men's road race

Bradley Wiggins' handlebar set up for the men's road race (Image credit: Daniel Simms)
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Gerrans and O'Grady both competed in the Beijing Games in 2008

Gerrans and O'Grady both competed in the Beijing Games in 2008 (Image credit: Daniel Simms)

The popularity of cycling in Great Britain has rocketed since its near sweep of the 2008 Olympic track cycling, the many stage wins by Mark Cavendish and now the overall Tour de France victory of Bradley Wiggins. Yet the crush of fans who lined the course from London and the Box Hill circuit in the 2012 Olympic Games road race in London proved to be so enormous and unmanageable that it surprised and frightened even the most hardened Tour veterans.

Although the peloton only suffered a few crashes, one involving a photographer who was in the road and the one of Fabian Cancellara which was pilot error in a turn, there were more dangers than what were apparent to the audience following on television.

Australia's Michael Rogers felt the crowds should have been controlled better. "No one expected that amount of people on the roadside. There were people in the road taking photos. It should have been marshalled a lot better. On the positive side I’ve never seen so many people at a bike race so that’s the way it is."

Team USA's Chris Horner highlighted the fact that in the UK, drivers use the left side of the road instead of the right meant that directors who are accustomed to the follow caravan in the rest of Europe suddenly had to adjust to the reverse side for the driver, the opposite side of the road and the rules on which side of the cars riders can be assisted on. It caused plenty of chaos unseen by the television cameras.

"I almost died five times," Horner said after suffering several mechanicals during the race and having to drop back to the following caravan for assistance. "Every time I was back in the cars - everybody's used to driving on the other side of the road, everyone's used to being in the other seat. Now all of a sudden we're supposed to change on the left side instead of the right side.

"At one point when my crank arm broke off, I changed my bike and chased back on, I'm doing 80k's an hour at the bottom of the circuit and there's a car on my left and a car on my right, and I'm getting ready to shoot the middle, and the two cars on the right pull over and stop, and I got just about enough room for me to get through ... and the mechanic opens the door on the road side, not on the grass side but on the road side! I was literally bike-going-sideways locked up and I missed the door by a few inches."

"It's not the driver's fault, we're just used to being on the other side of the road. It's nobody's fault," he said, before adding that he enjoyed the overall experience.

"It was a huge experience, the crowds were unbelieveable. I wish they could have been a little bit more tame in terms of staying back off the road. On the circuit they were all over the road, and before the circuit they were in the road everywhere.

"But it's the Olympics, and you have to expect something crazy, and it was. When I say the crowds were uneducated, I'm not picking out one nation, it's an international crowd, this size of a crowd on roads this size not backing up - I saw one guy standing two feet out in the road taking a photo and he didn't get out of the way and the rider smacked him hard, and he went into the field and crashed about 15-20 people, and the spectator went flying into the crowd and took out some mroe people there.

"[It was] absolutely the most scared I've ever been in a race. I've been in rainy races and been less scared than what I've experienced today."

There were other less physically dangerous situations for the riders, but one of certain discomfort for those who hoped to remain modest and not offend the fans.

"It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen," said German Andrè Greipel. "There was not a single spot to pee."