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Here Wiggo

12/29/2012

wiggins

Fifteen minutes out of Waterloo station and we’re already rolling through suburbia. It’s proper Terry and June country this. I almost expect Sir Dennis Hodge to get on at the next stop and unfurl a copy of the Financial Times. I’m on my way to Kingston upon Thames to watch the Olympic cycling time trials. Both the men’s and women’s races start and finish in front of Hampton Court Palace which is ticketed, but the rest of the courses are free to view. This suits my cheapskate ways. I’ll be doing the same for the triathlons and marathons next week.

The Olympics are well and truly here. Earlier, Waterloo station was a mass of Team London Ambassadors, travel champions, games makers, customer assisters, security guards and other assorted tabard wearers. Pink signs adorn underground stations offering directions to Olympic venues. If you’re heading to the volleyball at Earl’s Court there’s a handy pink sticker on the underground map that informs you of the need to disembark at Earl’s Court station. For weeks, pre-recorded messages from London’s buffoon-mayor have been broadcast on buses and at tube stations urging us to “get ahead of the Games”. And thousands of leaflets asked us “are you Games ready?” I’m not sure what Britain’s medal prospects are like but the English language has taken a fearsome battering.

I doubt that a midweek 11.57 service from Waterloo to Strawberry Hill has been this busy for a while. There’s a large contingent of European cycling fans; two lads across from me with a Russian flag and plenty of Swiss and orange-clad Dutch. A girl somewhere in the carriage is babbling into a mobile phone that she’s “off to see that cyclist fella…you know…whatshisname…that’s it, Bradley Wiggins”. It’s a mere week and a half since Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France. Today he could become Britain’s most decorated Olympian with a medal in the men’s individual time trial.

First up it’s the women’s race. An hour before the start the streets of Kingston town centre are already lined with excitable spectators. I walk across Kingston Bridge and up Hampton Court Road. It’s quieter up here. Ahead there’s a Yorkshire flag, flying proudly in support of Lizzie Armitstead who won a silver medal in the women’s road race on Sunday and is also competing here.

Soon there are cyclists speeding past us every minute or so. The time trials involve the cyclists setting off at ninety second intervals and cycling alone against the clock. Well, nearly alone. Almost all of them are accompanied by their coaching teams in cars behind, usually bellowing words of encouragement into a megaphone. “Come on Emma, keep it going, right to the finish”. I’m sure it helps.

It seems odd after all the fuss about applying for Olympics tickets to be able to stand at a Surrey roadside and watch some of the world’s finest cyclists go past for free. On this particular section of road, with very few stewards around and no kerbside barriers, there’s nothing to stop any of us from running out into the road and potentially ruining the medal prospects of any of the riders. Instead, people applaud, take pictures, scream, shout, wave flags and scan the television coverage on their iPads of events elsewhere on the 30km course. Kristin Armstrong from the US eventually wins gold with Britain’s Emma Pooley in sixth and Lizzie Armitstead finishing tenth.

Once the women’s race is over there’s a gap of about an hour until the men’s race begins and I move on to find another vantage point. The men’s course is longer at 44km and does a loop north from Kingston to Strawberry Hill, before heading south again through Bushy Park. Bushy Park is very busy as I wander through. It’s clear that many spectators have foregone the women’s race to bag a spot in the park close to the finish of the men’s race.

I end up watching the men’s time trial by the side of a road in Teddington, a few hundred yards north of the park. The crowds are huge; for as far as I can see they are five or six deep on both sides of the road and according to the radio coverage it’s pretty much the same all the way round the course. I manage to find a reasonable spot to watch the action, but only a few minutes before the first cyclist is due to come past a bloke squeezes into a barely-there space beside me with his two young sons. Out comes an iPad, an iPhone, a camera, a radio and the kitchen sink. The kids look a bit bored with it all. It takes more than six Olympic medals and a Tour de France win to impress the young ‘uns these days. One of them’s got a Liverpool shirt on. My hackles are on an upward trajectory.

Again, the thirty five cyclists in the men’s race come speeding past at regular intervals, all of them cheered loudly. There’s some familiar names from the Tour de France. Alexandr Vinokurov from Kazakhstan, who won the Olympic road race a few days before, gets predictable shouts of “go on Borat”. There are cyclists from across the globe including Iran, Colombia, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Canada. But most are from Europe including time trial specialists such as the reigning world time trial champion Tony Martin from Germany and the Swiss 2008 Olympic time trial gold medal winner Fabian Cancellara. It’s a high class field.

Unusually I decide to try to take some photos on my phone as each of the cyclists race past but my photography skills aren’t up to it. Most of the photos end up either as a colourful blur or as a roadside crowd shot with not a cyclist in sight. I eventually put the phone away and concentrate on simply watching the action. A few minutes later Bradley Wiggins speeds past, in his trademark compact, flat-backed, streamlined position. It looks almost like he could cycle round with a mug of tea balanced on his back, so horizontal is it. He swings to the right hand side of the road, to prepare for a left turn ahead, and is barely six feet away from me as he whizzes by. He’s been averaging 30 miles per hour for the circuit so far which means that there’s a fair chance he’s breaking the speed limit for this section of road.

The cheers that greet Wiggins are the loudest of the day and by this stage it’s clear that he’s well on course for the gold medal with only a mile or so to go before he reaches Hampton Court Palace. Even before a struggling Fabian Cancellara, the last rider on the course, comes past the crowds are celebrating Britain’s second gold medal of the Olympics.

And then it’s confirmed on the radio. Bradley Wiggins is the Olympic time trial champion. It’s one for slightly puzzled looking, bushy sideburned and skinny legged men everywhere. Well done Wiggo, we salute you.

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