Box Hill’s new surface too fast?
Box Hill‘s fast new surface
Did it have the wrong effect?
Posted 30 July 2012
So, now we know. The new surface laid on Box Hill’s Zig Zag Road for the Olympic cycling road races did not ensure that Team GB’s Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, David Millar and Ian Stannard were able to keep sprinter Mark Cavendish in contention for the men’s race gold medal. Maybe it wasn’t laid with that outcome in mind, but did it have any effect on the race?
Race TV commentator Chris Boardman wondered as much during the coverage of the event, going as far as to question why the organisers had bothered. For while the smooth new coat of tarmac looked good and must have made life easier in some respects for the riders, it may have simply exchanged one type of difficulty for another.
The old surface was part of the challenge of the climb. In places in fairly good condition, it was anything but on the parts of the climb overhung by trees. On the exit from the second, right-hand hairpin, the topmost layer had worn away in places to leave the rider searching for a line that would avoid a speed-sapping series of bumps and corrugations.
Leaving it – and the several speed bumps placed at intervals after the first bend – would have made the climb slower and tougher. It might have been expected to help the sort of rider who comes to the fore in the one-day classics; strong men such as Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen.
In the event, Cancellara and several others including Alessandro Valverde and Luis Leon Sanchez waited until the last ascent before jumping away from the British-led bunch and bridging across to the long-standing break, which then stayed away to the finish.
If the new surface made the climb of Box Hill faster, in turn this meant that Team GB could maintain a higher speed on the front of the peloton without putting Cavendish under pressure. But it also must have made life a little easier for anyone sat in the middle of the bunch, since the higher riding speed would have increased the benefit to be had from being sheltered from the wind, in which case it may have played into the hands of those who sat in the peloton, waiting for the moment to leave its shelter – and the tow being offered by Team GB and the occasional helper from Germany. Laying the new tarmac may have been counter-productive in that it allowed those sitting in the bunch to get a comparatively easier ride at Team GB’s expense than would have been the case with the old, slower surface.
In any case, the new tarmac made a great background for Richard Long’s Box Hill Road River artwork and the graffiti in support of the British riders. Once thing’s for sure; it will make life easier for Surrey’s cyclists for years to come. Even once the speed bumps have been replaced.