Here’s a video I took Sunday at the Women’s cycle road race. It was almost 90 miles long and came down the same roads as the men’s had on Saturday. But on Sunday, though the race started in blinding sunshine on the Mall in London, by the time they hit the country roads out of town thunderstorms were booming and the rain and wind got fierce.
So I decided that I had to go watch, in case others stayed home.
But I didn’t need to worry. The crowd was massive: cycling fans, families, dads arriving exhausted because they’d run alongside their little boys, teaching them to ride a bike by going to watch the Olympics. When I arrived at the course a county highway crew was there pumping flood water from the road. And everybody was desperate for information — they wanted to know where the riders were. Nobody had a radio. Then: ping. I had a text message… from the Daughter, in the United States, watching on television. It said: “They just crossed the M25.”
That meant they were only a few miles down the road and headed our way. I shouted, “They just crossed the M25!” And the crowd cheered. The Daughter was their hero.
The police officer touched her radio and hollered, “GET OUT OF THE ROAD.” The advance vehicles and police motorcycles and press and more police raced past. We heard the helicopter overhead — that’s always the clue that things are getting close. Then the skies opened and the rain just came down in buckets.
The video is my usual shaky, obscured filmmaking. But you can get a sense of how the race was at a critical point: a lead group of four had made a break. They were twenty miles from the finish and had thrown the dice. And when they flashed past and the crowd saw a British uniform in the group, the atmosphere turned electric.
Then they were gone, and the cop shouted, “It’s raining — that’s a good omen for the Brit!” And we all ran for home; the racing fans and the families with strollers and the kids on bikes. I just made it, sopping and out of breath, in time to see the riders head into London. And in the driving rain, with the streets packed with wildly cheering fans, the breakaway group thinned down to three. They rounded Buckingham Palace and headed down the mall into a brutal sprint. When they hit the finish line, Russian Olga Zabelinskaya was third. Marianne Vos of the Netherlands took the gold, and right on her wheel, with the crowd going mad crazy, was Lizzie Armitstead, who took silver — Britain’s first medal of 2012. Vos later said she was thrilled to ride through the “wall of noise.”
Yeah, this is good stuff. Tomorrow are the men’s and women’s cycle time trials. They pass right in front of my kids’ high school. I’ll be there.