Motorists fume as Olympic rehearsal closes capital's roads

In a sign that does not bode well for next summer's celebration of sporting excellence, the biggest test event so far for the 2012 Olympic Games was marred yesterday by angry confrontations between drivers and stewards.

Any environmentally friendly effect of the London-Surrey Cycle Classic was negated by queues of traffic in west London and Surrey, as motorists struggled to make sense of road closures and diversions.

Sitting in hot cars, with many being forced to make creative three-point-turns down back streets, Londoners complained of "transport chaos". Most said the race stewards who had been bussed in from around the country had no idea where to direct them.

The route was intended to act as a rehearsal for the Olympic men's and women's road races. More than 2,800 stewards from private security firms were hired to direct drivers around the road closures. But one steward manning a closed road in south-west London, who did not wish to be identified, described the traffic as "chaotic". He said he had not been provided with a map or information about which roads were closed. "We're from Swindon – it would have been good to get a highlighted map of where to send people," he said.

Jessica James, working on a food stall on Fulham Broadway, said many customers had complained about delays. "I know someone who was supposed to be moving house today, but the van has never arrived," she said.

Another driver, who did not wish to be named, said it took her more than three hours to get from Earl's Court to Wandsworth. "Every time you ask someone for directions, they say: 'Sorry, I'm not from around here.' I am very much in favour of the cycle race, but not when it's organised like this." Jennifer Marsh, whose car ran out of petrol on North End Road towards Putney, said she was waiting for her fiancé to arrive on a motorbike with petrol. "It's taken me three hours so far to drive from Henley to Battersea. I should have checked before I left, but there's no information once you're on the road."

Drivers also voiced their anger on social networks. "My day trip to Kent is cancelled," tweeted Tom Ellis. "Impossible to cross London from west to south." Some said that areas such as Richmond, usually busy on a Sunday afternoon, were practically empty. Mary Hawes tweeted: "Cycle race has meant lockdown in Teddington, usually busy pubs are deserted."

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said he was "aware there have been difficulties". He said his office would "continue to work closely with Transport for London [TfL] to ensure any lessons are learned."

TfL's managing director of surface transport Leon Daniels said the public had been properly forewarned of the event. "Today's test event is an essential part of the preparation for the London 2012 Games. A huge amount of communication to Londoners, particularly those along and near the route, has been undertaken," he said. However, he admitted that the race "caused difficulties for some".

The Department for Transport said it would be monitoring TfL's response to complaints. Debbie Jevans, London 2012 Director of Sport, said: "I want to thank London and Surrey residents for changing their normal Sunday to accommodate this race."

The event was eventually won by British cyclist Mark Cavendish.

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