The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
Photo c. Travel London
Le Tour est arrivé à Londres! After years of anticipation and preparation, cycling’s premier event has come to the capital of England for the first time ever this weekend, with the prologue time-trial on the Saturday before a neutralised start from Tower Bridge on Sunday on the road to Canterbury. The prologue course in particular is one to savour, taking in as many landmarks as there are kilometres (eight). It is thought that there will be 1.5 million spectators lining the route on Saturday.
The Prologue Course
What better place to start at than outside Whitehall, a stone’s throw away from No. 10 Downing Street, the residence of new Prime Minister Gordon Bordon? From here, it’s about 500m of flat road to build up speed, flashing past the Houses of Parliament and its famous clock tower, Big Ben. Into Parliament Square, there’s a 90-degree bend as the riders will go past Westminster Abbey (spectators take note, when the bells chime, they really chime, stopping any conversation you may wish to have).
Can you spot the Queen?
Photo c. Orbitz
From here, the route turns away from the landmarks for a few kilometres, down the slightly narrower Victoria Street, lined with office blocks and residential buildings. It’s then a tight right turn onto Buckingham Gate – the first time the speed is likely to significantly drop – and past Buckingham Palace. I’m sure the Queen will be watching from somewhere, cheering them on.
Photo c. Westminster Cyclists
It’s then a long, straight 800m drag up Constitution Hill. Physically, it will be difficult trying to keep the power and rhythm going as the slight uphill gradient bites; mentally, it’s so ruler-straight that you can see the next landmark, Wellington Arch, 800 metres up the road. This is the narrowest bit of the route, as the riders will go through here, slowing for one or two corners before entering Hyde Park through another gate. From here on in though, it’s largely sweeping corners able to be taken at top speed.
The view down the Mall to Buckingham Palace
Photo c. London’s Guide
Along South Carriage Drive, there’s another drag as the riders hit the Knightsbridge district (riders’ wives/spectators take note, Harrods is nearby, lots of products at obscene prices). Hanging a right turn, they will cross Serpentine Bridge with just under 3000m to ride, and start the slight descent down through Hyde Park, before doubling up on themselves and going down Constitution Hill, where they should reach 60-65km/h. From there, trying to maintain the speed, they pass the Queen Victoria Memorial, and it’s barely 500 metres to the finish on The Mall, on the famous reddish road. Ridden at the right pace, no rider should have the energy to sprint for the finish, let alone look at any of the lovely route I’ve just described.
Wherever Bradley Wiggins has gone this week, he has practically been mobbed by the press. His Dauphiné prologue win confirmed him as one of the big contenders for this prologue, and it would be incredible for the Cofidis man to win in his backyard, though he could succumb to nerves on the big day. David Millar, always dangerous in prologues, has been largely overlooked. It has been billed as a fight between world champion Fabian Cancellara (CSC) and Wiggins for victory on a course that should go to a powerful time-trialist, but also watch out for the likes of Millar, David Zabriskie, Jens Voigt (CSC), George Hincapie (Discovery Channel) Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne) and last year’s Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), as well as candidates for the Tour like Kloden and Leipheimer.
The Daily Peloton’s tip for a surprise is Robbie Hunter (Barloworld).
Britain is synonymous with rain – spectators and players at Wimbledon will assure of that. However, at least for Saturday, it looks like being a fine day, cloudy and sunny, reaching around 20 degrees Celsius for the prologue. There’s also a westerly wind blowing at 8-9mph, but that shouldn’t hamper the riders too much.
The area around Wellington Arch, the narrowest part of the course, will be barriered off, so not many spectators can fit around there. Buckingham Palace and the surrouding area today alone was rammed with tourists - it's going to be the same if not worse on Saturday. Getting a spot on Constitution Hill means yon can see the riders come by twice, but it will be prized, as will a place in the last 500 metres on The Mall.
If you don't fancy waiting around for several hours - and in reality, most good spots will be taken early on - there's the People's Village in Hyde Park, which has many events to promote cycling and food stalls. Or you can just sit back and relax on the grass of Hyde Park, one of the largest open spaces in the capital.