Mayor is among thousands taking part in weekend of cycling events to raise profile of ‘the world capital of the velocipede’
The culmination of an unprecedented weekend of events designed to show off London as a cycling city and in turn inspire the nation came at around 2.30pm on Sunday as a puffing blond man in an oversized blue T-shirt and baggy shorts got off his bike at The Mall, eight hours and 100 miles from his starting point.
“Unbelievable,” said Boris Johnson, London’s mayor and one of the main instigators of the Ride London events which saw much of the capital given over to the two-wheeled for two days. “I was overtaken solidly for about four hours, and then in the last bit I was starting to overhaul some people, a few 60-year-old men, children. But 80-year-old women were still soaring past me. So it was a very chastening but wonderful experience.”
Around 50,000 riders, including many families, packed on to a short section of closed roads on Saturday, before 16,000 of their more gung-ho peers took a longer loop from the capital into Surrey and back again. The new events showed London to be “the world capital of the velocipede”, an ebullient Johnson told the crowds at the finish over the PA.
The weekend was intended to tap into the enthusiasm sparked by the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics for all things cycling, both as a sport and an everyday pursuit. Saturday also saw a race for top women riders around central London, won by Britain’s Laura Trott, while there were also youth and handcycle events. Sunday saw men’s teams tackle an extended version of the 100-mile course ridden by Johnson.
Billed as the London Marathon on wheels, Ride London will become an annual festival of cycling intended to inspire all sorts to take up the pursuit, much as the London Marathon has done for running over 33 years.
The mayor invested considerable political capital in the event, not least risking the ire of motorists with a series of road closures covering large parts of central, east and west London as well as a fair section of Surrey.
He also took something of a risk in promising to ride the 100-mile event, and in recent months seemingly spent as much time gloomily predicting a ponderous 12-hour effort as he did actually training.