Tuesday night’s cycle race in central Croydon narrowly avoided tragedy, according to one of Britain’s most respected Paralympic champions.
Sarah Storey, the winner of 11 Paralympic gold medals across two sports at four separate Games, was sent crashing as a woman and child ignored the barriers on the course and tried to cross the road on one of the fastest sections of the route as the cyclists raced towards them at speeds approaching 25mph.
Storey ended up landing on the child, but highlighted how close the incident might have been to tragedy, as the woman who crossed the barriers ignored the on-coming lead motorbike and television camera.
A video taken by a member of the public on Tuesday was posted on YouTube. It shows cyclists in mid-race coming down hill into a left turn at Drummond Street. With the camera operator’s attention grabbed by shouts, they pan around quickly to show a woman and a young child disentangling themselves from Dame Sarah’s bike.
The boy is clearly badly shaken and distressed.
You can hear horrified spectators calling on other riders to slow down – and one cyclist is unable to avoid the scene of the crash.
The woman clearly was not using one of the crossing points around the 1.1-kilometre circuit that took in North End, the High Street and Surrey Street.
“Idiot!” another spectator calls out. “Stupid woman!”
After they’ve picked themselves up and got off the road, the video shows another woman pushing past the barriers.
Storey got back on her bike and was able to finish the race, in 10th place.
“Bit battered after exiting the fastest corner on the circuit and being confronted by a woman trying to cross the course with her young son,” Storey wrote on Twitter on Tuesday evening.
“Had nowhere to go and ended up hitting them, but worse was the woman shoved her boy towards me when he was trying to run for safety.
“Barriers lined the course, but people passing through the area of the race broke barriers,” she said.
“It happened all round the course by people annoyed they weren’t able to use their ‘usual’ route.
“No one wants to hit a spectator, let alone a child. The scary thing was the camera bike which could have hit someone, too.”
The race was part of the Matrix Fitness Grand Prix for women, staged from 5.30pm, before the men’s Pearl Izumi Tour Series race later in the evening. It was the first time that Croydon town centre has staged a criterium-style cycle event.
Using money from Transport for London and the London Mayor, Croydon Council paid the event organisers £148,000 to bring the event to the town centre. In the meantime, Croydon and TfL have been obliterating cycle lanes around the borough.
The race organisers are Sweet Spot, a sports events and marketing company who specialise “in the creation and execution of high-quality, annual sporting events”, and have been involved in staging the Tour of Britain, the Tour de France Grand Depart when staged from London, and the annual RidePrudential event.
Specialist magazine Cycling Weekly is reporting today that staff witnessed a couple of incidents where members of the public were angry at the (relatively brief) inconvenience of not being able to cross roads. One man, they report, “was angrily explaining to a marshal that he had to walk a hundred metres down the road to use the crossing point on his way to the railway station. Another woman was visibly upset that her bus was not running along its usual route due to the event”.
But Inside Croydon also witnessed some worryingly poor stewarding of a crossing point at the southern-most end of Surrey Street, where the riders took an uphill hairpin turn.
It seemed odd that a crossing point had been arranged almost on the apex of that bend, rather than further down Surrey Street, where it could still provide a clear view of on-coming riders.
At one point during the women’s race, with two staff from Bodrum kebab shop with heavy slabs of meat over their shoulders, keen to get across to the high street for the evening trade, we saw them and others being waved into the road while the marshal in their hi-viz waistcoat was looking to the right – as the cycling peloton was approaching at speed from their left.
Only a more alert member of the public pulled the pedestrians back before they were kebabed by a couple of bike racers.
This looked like an accident waiting to happen, and shortly after the women’s race finished a couple of burly uniformed stewards appeared on the scene and moved the crossing point further up the road, away from the bend. The not-very-alert marshal was not seen there again.
Highlights of the event were televised last night on ITV4, and showed several other bike crashes during the men’s race on a straight, fast section of the course, when no spectators were involved.
The event looked good on the small screen, but out on the streets it seemed not to have won over the population of Croydon. The crowds around the course were barely one deep – although the sponsors’ hospitality areas appeared to be busy with various council officials and other SIPs (Self-Important Persons).
But it is fair to assume that if Croydon Council leader Tony Newman had handed every spectator on the night a tenner, he will still have had change out of £148,000…
The promised Olympic stars due to race around the “technical course” in Croydon? None, with the exception of Dame Sarah, made it to the start line. Team Wiggins were out in force, and the team car was parked for the night outside Lloyd’s Bar, but the great man himself was not seen, on his bike nor in the bar.
The start/finish area was outside the Whitgift Centre – conveniently placed to promote any future £1 billion Westfield super-mall, although the developers contributed nothing to the staging costs of this event. But away from that part of the course, the crowds were very sparse, as another cycling enthusiast’s video (below) demonstrates.
What spectators there were got precious little information: there was no public address announcements away from the race centre to provide commentary.
As well as diverted buses, the tram network was disrupted all day, with a stretch of track by Church Street temporarily tarmaced over to smooth the ride for the racers.
Traders and shop-keepers we have spoken to along the course say that the event did nothing to boost their businesses. “We were dead all day,” the manager of one course-side cafe said. “Much worse than a usual weekday.”
And stall-holders on Surrey Street? They were all forced to take a day off altogether, with a total loss of a day’s takings and apparently no compensation ever offered. That must be a sure-fire way of driving one of the country’s oldest street markets out of business.
Croydon will have to break down a few more barriers to make the bike race a successful, annual event.
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