The Olympic road cycling test event caused chaos on London’s roads yesterday.
Organisers hoped it would be a seamless test run for the 2012 Olympics, but, as furious drivers were forced to abandon their cars, the chaos that reigned was deemed as an indication of what’s to come at the Olympics next Summer.
Much of London was left in gridlocked thanks to the London-Surrey Cycle Classic, where top cyclists rode from The Mall in central London to Box Hill in Surrey and back again – the exact same 87-mile route as the road race in the 2012 Olympics.
About 1400 roads in London and Surrey were shut for most of the day, resulting in huge traffic build-ups.
Roads in central London were blocked off from 4am yesterday while those further out had closed at 8pm on Saturday. Many closures remained in place until 4pm yesterday.
Transport for London bosses said they warned residents and businesses that roads in the area would be “severely affected”.
But many motorists, who found themselves stuck in traffic for hours, said they were unaware of the degree of the disruption.
Drivers were also angry that roads were still shut long after cyclists had passed through.
Alan Ashworth, 56, from Bromley, left his car after hitting gridlock in Kings Road in Chelsea about 2.15pm and had to walk two miles to work in Kensington.
He said: “It was absolute gridlock.
“I was trying to cross Fulham Road and was turned back.
“I asked the race steward when the race finished and he said it was an hour ago.
“He said he was from out of town and didn’t really know what was going on.
“I was told to go to Shepherd’s Bush if I wanted to get to Kensington.
“But there were no cyclists flying by, just hundreds of these stewards.
“It was absolute nonsense.”
Areas affected included Westminster, Chelsea, Fulham , Richmond, Hampton Court and parts of Surrey.
South west London, including Kingston and Putney, were among the worst-hit areas.
Drivers who set off to drive just a few miles were stuck for up to two hours in their cars, and many didn’t complete their journeys at all.
Tempers were frayed around Earls Court where a wedding convoy was completely blocked because of the closures.
One unnamed race steward in Putney High Street admitted the road closures had been “chaotic”. The Steward said even staff were not adequately informed about when diversions would be lifted.
He said: “This is supposed to be a test event and it shows there is a lot more work to be done.
“I am from Lincoln and we have cycle events all the time that pass without any bother.
“It’s been a long day with a lot of angry motorists.”
At one of London’s worst bottlenecks, at the junction of the A3 and the south circular, gas roadworks added to the headache.
Drivers also vented their frustrations on Twitter and Facebook.
Sharon Burke-Mukungu, from London. tweeted: “Many roads closed in London today for a cycling event.
“Please have such events in countryside in future.
“Traffic been shocking all day.”
Despite the congestion, organisers hailed the event a success – but said lessons had been learned.
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 and to the tens of thousands who lined the route to support the athletes.”
Leon Daniels, Transport for London’s managing director for surface transport, added: ‘A huge amount of planning and delivery went into making this event happen.
“The vast majority of people appeared to heed our advice to plan their travel and used tube and rail services, while others chose to enjoy viewing the race in their local area.”
The race passed through six London boroughs, four Royal Parks and out into Surrey before returning to central London and The Mall where Briton Mark Cavendish was first across the finishing line.
The Olympic road cycling races take place over five days next summer, from Saturday, July 28, until Wednesday August 1.
Free to watch, it will include separate races for men and women plus time trials.