Tensions over 2012 Olympic cycle route crank up a gear

Box Hill in Surrey has seen a dramatic rise in cyclists on its roads – but not everyone is happy
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The Independent Online

Next summer the world's top cyclists will battle it out in the rolling splendour of the Surrey hills for an Olympic gold in one of sport's most gruelling challenges.

In the meantime those hoping to live out their fantasy of being Mark Cavendish or Bradley Wiggins for a day are converging in record numbers on Box Hill, which plays host to one of the key sections of the flagship road race event during London 2012.

But mounting tensions between cyclists and motorists at the National Trust-owned beauty spot near Dorking have prompted pleas for both groups to learn to share the famous hairpin bends of Zig Zag Road.

This summer, extra police patrols were put on over the weekend to help keep a lid on emotions. Cycling clubs have also been urged to use the hill, which will be scaled nine times by the peloton after setting out from London in the 140km race next July, with respect for others.

Surrey Police confirmed there had been a "handful of incidents" and that the number of cyclists using the road had dramatically increased since it was appointed as an Olympic venue. Local people have complained about riders riding two or three abreast and of aggressive behaviour directed towards overtaking motorists.

Sgt Andy Rundle, of Surrey Police, insisted it was not a case of four wheels good, two wheels bad, but said concerns were being taken seriously. "This isn't an issue solely of cyclists but an issue of increased visitors to Box Hill full stop," he said.

"We are stopping motorists and cyclists and making sure that all road users are mindful that they are likely to encounter increased numbers of cyclists. It is a challenge the local police have to rise to and make sure that everyone is considerate of every other road user."

But cycling and triathlon clubs, who have already been reminded they face £1,000 fines for inconsiderate or careless riding as part of a county-wide crackdown on reckless two-wheelers, insist they also have rights. A number of teams were written to in the summer following complaints by motorists who had been stuck behind large groups of bicycles. According to the Highway Code, cycling two abreast is allowed when conditions are safe. However cyclists should always be in single file when going around a corner.

Adrian Webb, chairman of Redhill Cycling Club, said it was inexcusable for cyclists to be aggressive. But, he said: "Box Hill is not on a main arterial route. It is a leisurely zig zag road up to a small village and a National Trust outlook so it should not be impeding anybody's way. Cyclists are traffic as well."

Michelle Cleverley, of the National Trust, said there had been growing interest from organisers of sportive events. "It's a lovely place and we want everyone to enjoy it. So everyone will have to be a little bit more patient," she said.

There has already been controversy over the decision to use Box Hill for the hill section of the road race events. Cycling fans have complained there will be only limited access because of concerns over wildlife. Mark Cavendish, current world champion, has urged fans to raise a petition opposing the limits.