Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Olympic cycling road race broadcasts: Box Hill recce

We're doing two breakfast outside broadcasts in a row this week, both from the same location - the Smith and Western restaurant on Box Hill. This is because Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins will be zipping past our broadcast point nine times on Saturday afternoon, and I am tasked with setting the scene and reporting the build up.

As I will be arriving in the dark on Friday morning, I drove up there for a little recce today.

Box Hill was looking rather lovely in the sunshine.

The Zig Zag Road itself was closed, so I parked in the Smith and Western car park (which is the last building before the National Trust section of the property) and introduced myself to the duty manager.

Then I hitched a lift with an angry sweaty man in a supply truck who, after several minutes of battling security stewards, was able to drive his lorry onto the Zig Zag Road.

He told me he was going to invoice the BBC for giving me a lift into the LOCOG lockdown zone as he wanted something back for his licence fee. I pointed out that until I had got in his cab he wasn't going anywhere.

The angry sweaty man got stopped again after a few hundred metres so I left him to it and took the above photo at the South East-facing observation point.

Then I strolled past Donkey Green where the big (very big) screen has already been put up.

And I finally made it to the cafe area where I bumped into Andrew Wright, the National Trust countryside manager responsible for Box Hill.

I've spoken to Andrew a number of times on the show, but this was the first time I had met him. I recognised him from his twitter profile (well worth following, btw) pic.

Although, on this occasion, he wasn't holding a pig.

Andrew said yes the cafe area had had a lick of paint since I last visited, and that he had closed Zig Zag Road this morning not just to road vehicles, as planned, but to cyclists, which wasn't the original idea. 

Some of them were refusing to respect the one-way system he'd put in place for today and were hooning it down the Zig Zag without much thought for the people and vehicles getting everything ready.

We were chatting in the virtually deserted cafe garden right on top of Box Hill. Andrew told me before they'd closed it off that morning the place had been buzzing with lycra-clad Wiggo-groupies all getting terribly twitchy about Saturday. 

One thing Andrew was very keen to emphasize was how much work had gone into ensuring the thousands of people who are tramping up Box Hill over the weekend have no permanent impact on the wildlife. After we parted I hitched a lift back along the Zig Zag to Smith and Western with a lady from Natural England. She spent most of the journey moaning about how much impact all the tents, trucks and concrete would have on the wildlife.

When I got back to Walton-on-Thames I dropped by P&Q stores, which faces onto the road race route, and which just so happens to have the perfect spot to catch an early part of the road races on Saturday and Sunday. 

Acting on instructions from our sports editor, I asked if they would mind if we parked our radio car on their property at the weekend and broadcast from there. It is a great vantage point, as it will allow our reporter to mix it with the crowd whilst watching the cyclists climb up Terrace Road and then tear through Walton town centre.

The P&Q people were most amenable to the idea. It means, if all the other logistical bits and bobs fall into place over the next 48 hours, that my colleague Adrian Harms will be reporting from the end of my road on Saturday, whilst I do my bit from Box Hill.

It is the closest I am going to get professionally to an Olympic event (unless you count last week's torch reporting), and I am looking forward to it immensely.

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