Outside London, Olympics show off iconic England

By David Stringer

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 7 2012 8:54 a.m. MDT

Olympic authorities had planned for the route to snake through the capital, but the sport's governing body wanted a course that would better challenge riders and show off more iconic British views.

Flaherty was tapped to share some of his own favored paths. "I literally went out with my rucksack, a camera and a pen and paper and looked at the whole route and then reported back," he said.

The final course offers a checklist of famous British images — from Westminster Abbey to sheep-filled meadows — and some competitors have already interrupted training rides with Flaherty to snap pictures with their smartphones.

"It does manage to go past all the main tourist sites in London, starting and finishing on The Mall, and also takes in a huge amount of Surrey," Flaherty said. "It's a real contrast — all the countryside shows another element of Great Britain to the rest of the world."

Spectators, though not the riders who will speed by, can admire a vision of English nostalgia nestled along the course at Shere, an unspoiled village with a 12th century church, tea house, gently gurgling stream and cluster of thatched roofed cottages.

Nearby at Box Hill, a favorite southern England picnic spot and vantage point, competitors face a grueling ascent up the aptly named Zig Zag Road, an energy-sapping climb which men will complete nine times and women twice. The summit will host about 15,000 spectators, while tens of thousands more are expected to pack along the remainder of the course.

Flaherty said that since he helped to finalize the route scores of enthusiasts have taken to the course with their own bikes — meaning he must find new paths for his own peaceful weekend cycle rides.

"I've been cycling around here for about 25 years and one of the things I liked is that it's always really quiet," Flaherty said, ruefully. "Then I got involved with the Olympics and now there are hundreds of people out on the route every weekend. The lesson is to be careful what you wish for."

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