Bye bye Beastway

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London’s new Olympic Village – the existing Eastway Cycle Circuit is under there somewhere
Pic: London 2012

One of the reasons that cities like to host the Olympic Games is because they get to build lots of shiny new sports facilities around the place, generally in otherwise not terribly inspiring parts of themselves, thus improving the lot of everyone. Or so the theory goes.

In the case of the London Olympics, though, it looks like mountain bike and cyclo-cross racing in the capital could be completely scuppered by the 2012 Games. Currently Eastway Cycle Circuit in East London hosts a whole bunch of bike sport including the legendary Beastway mid-week MTB XC series. The Beastway series is amazingly popular, largely because the venue means that London-based riders can ride to it, have a decent race for an hour and then ride home.

But the 2006 Beastway series will be the last. Why? Because the smart new Olympic Park for the 2012 London Games will be built right on top of the Eastway circuit. On the upside, the Park will include a shiny new velodrome, and track cycling’s top stuff. On the downside, there’ll be nowhere left to race off-road bikes of any wheel size or handlebar configuration – MTB, CX, bye-bye.

You wouldn’t think that the Olympics would be in the business of taking stuff away without replacing it, and indeed there is an Eastway Cycle Circuit Relocation and Legacy Strategy. The “Legacy” involves putting things back once the Games are done. However, that’s over six years down the line, which is where the “Relocation” bit comes in – the Eastway facilities have to be put somewhere else until the Olympic Park is finished with. The ECCR&LS describes the selection process by which the best option for building a new circuit with facilities to match Eastway is found to be at Rammey Marsh in North London, just by the M25.

Unfortunately the Eastway Users Group has identified a number of rather significant shortcomings to the Rammey Marsh site. For a start, it’s about half the size of Eastway, which means that a road race circuit will have to be rather contorted to fit in the available space. And having got that and a car park and other bits and bobs in there, there isn’t much space left for an MTB/CX circuit. No problem, say the planners, you could race in the bits of Lee Valley Park just next door. Er, no they can’t, say the Lee Valley Park Authority.

Rammey Marsh is also nearly twelve miles from Eastway, which is a significant extra chunk of travelling (on busy roads) for most Eastway users. Oh, and it’s flat as a board, too, so any hills will have to be built specially. The irony of all this, of course, is that the riders who’ll be representing Britain in the 2012 Olympics are currently racing in Under-14 and Junior categories. And where are they racing every week? Yep – Eastway.

So there’s something of an impasse. The proposed replacement doesn’t appear to cut the mustard, and it’s not as if London has a wealth of other off-road riding areas. Byelaws prohibit competitive or sport riding in any park or woodland in London. But the EUG says that it has identified a “highly suitable venue”, which comes complete with the possibility of actually staging the Olympic MTB event itself (currently planned to be held in Weald Country Park, Essex). The alternative venue is said to be far more suitable, more convenient and has the backing of the local authority and the landowner. It would also leave London with an Olympic-standard off-road course after the games – under the current plan all facilities for the Olympic MTB racing are temporary and will be removed once the Games have concluded.

But time is short. The users are pressing the planners not to approve the existing strategy until the alternative has been properly explored. A statement from the EUG concludes:

“Little did we suspect how strongly we would have to make a case to defend the best place in London for the country’s most popular outdoor active pursuit for adults and children alike. And this in a city where adult cycling for transport has increased by over 30% in the last two years. We want more of London’s youth to take to cycling. Getting young people to ride their bikes as fast as they can is a great way to start the habit of a healthier lifetime.”

We’ll keep you posted…

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