Cycling road race brings crowds out to Putney

Wimbledon Guardian: Cycling road race brings crowds out to Putney Cycling road race brings crowds out to Putney

Putney has a rich history of politics, culture and sport but the town had never seen anything like last weekend.

The High Street was lined with railings, bunting and flags from across the world for two days of top class Olympic cycling.

To celebrate the occasion, a street party was held in Lacy Road, a world market was staged in St Mary's Church and an exhibition of Putney's long cycling legacy was on show in the library in Disraeli Road.

Roads were closed off, parking bays suspended and everything was planned to perfection and the only variable out of the organisers' control was the weather.

On Saturday, for the men's cycling road race, Putney basked in glorious sunshine throughout the day but, unlike the weather, race fans were very disappointed that the men's team did not win any medals.

The quintet, led by recent Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and 'Manx Missile' Mark Cavendish, had been expected to romp home and win Britain's first gold of the Games.

But a combination of exhaustion from the Tour and a lack of help from any fellow peloton riders, in closing down the breakaway group, meant they trailed in way behind the medals.

In fact the decisive move was made by eventual winner, and surely now Kazakhstan's second most famous export Alexandre Vinokourov, as the leaders turned into Putney High Street.

Louise Bennett, 23, of Islington said: "It was exciting to see Wiggins, especially after the Tour de France. "I think Danny Boyle did really good during the Opening Ceremony on Friday. I'm in the spirit of all things Olympics."

Chris Asembo, 17, from Putney, and Ryan Savage, 17, from Oxford, said they enjoyed the whole experience, despite Team GB failing to bag any medals. Mr Asembo said: "The atmosphere is great, it is so weird there are so many people here where I live."

Ele Corcoran, 25, of Wandsworth, said: "It is really buzzing in Putney today, it was really cool and there was lots of tension when we were waiting."

So on Sunday it was up to the women's team, comprising of Wandsworth's own Emma Pooley, Lizzie Armitstead, Lucy Matrin and Beijing gold medallist Nicole Cooke, to make up for the previous day's disappointment However, the bad weather turned and rain lashed down as the girls made their way back to London after two gruelling laps of Box Hill.

Wandsworth-born Pooley was credited with doing most of the hard work as the leaders jostled for position, and her graft allowed Armitstead to break away with three other riders including world number one Marion Vos.

Cheers erupted along the High Street, from the thousands of spectators, when Armitstead turned the corner into Putney's thoroughfare second in the leading group which had reduced to three. The peloton followed some 40 seconds later and loyal fans got to witness the dangers of road racing when a number of riders were involved in a nasty crash outside the Paddy Power betting shop at the junction with Chelverton Road.

But such was the enthusiasm to see how Armitstead fared, soaked spectators could be seen running into pubs and bars, or even heading home, to watch the thrilling climax a few miles up the road in the Mall.

They were rewarded as the 23-year-old Yorkshire woman secured the nation's first medal, hopefully setting the tone for the rest of Team GB.

Schoolgirls Jade and Erica Howe, 13 and 15, said: "The boys let us down in the sunshine but the girls brought home the bacon despite the rain."

But the racing wasn't the only attraction and Sanya and Bert Tenant, from Ipswich, were intrigued by the cycling exhibition which showed photos and information about Putney's old velodrome.

Mr Tenant said: "I grew up in Putney so it was lovely to come back for such a special event. I lived here for 20 years but had no idea about the velodrome."

It was opened in Landford and Hotham Road in 1891 and attracted up to 10,000 at its peak before the influx of expensive Edwardian housing meant the venue closed in 1907 and faded into distant memory. The world market featured a variety of foods from around the world and guests were entertained by a jazz band while a bouncy castle, giant chessboard and music kept up the tempo once the riders had headed out to Surrey.

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