Making a mountain out of a Mole Valley hill

November 21, 2011

As an informed cycleperson, you would probably know what I was referring to if I constructed a headline beginning with the words “Olympic cycle route row at Box Hill”. “Yes,” you would say to yourself, “this is a story about the route for the Olympic road race. There’s a bit of a hoo-ha about restricting the number of spectators at Box Hill because of environmental concerns. In fact, some are questioning why the Olympic officials didn’t choose any one of the many other challenging hills in the Surrey area to accommodate more spectators. I wonder what’s the latest development in this long-running saga? I must read this story to find out.”

This, reader – naive, trusting reader – is not an unreasonable assumption to make. Not an unreasonable assumption at all. But, in the case of a story that appeared on the BBC website on Thursday, you’d be bang wrong, buster.

Olympic cycle route row at Box Hill sparks police patrols”. Police patrols? Are mild-mannered cyclists, emboldened by the global mood of fed-upness manifested by makeshift campsites at Wall Street and St Paul’s, now protesting about their own crisis on Mole Valley’s famed Zig-Zag? No. No, they are not. Read on, and it becomes clear that the story is actually about police telling cyclists – ordinary cyclists like, perhaps, yourself – to observe the rules of the road because they’ve had complaints from local residents. In the context of the story, there is no “row” about the Olympics. There is a suggestion that the tensions have been triggered by more cyclists coming to try out Box Hill because it is part of the Olympic route, but the police sergeant quoted seems to think otherwise: “This isn’t an issue solely of cyclists but an issue of increased visitors to Box Hill full stop.” So despite the headline and the angle of the story, The Olympics has bugger-all to do with anything.

And, as an informed cycleperson, you may also be aware of how the story about cyclists supposedly behaving badly on Box Hill first emerged. A couple of months ago, Mole Valley Police handed out leaflets warning cyclists, ungrammatically, that they would be fined £1,000 for dangerous or inattentive riding. The force later apologised for their “blunt” and “inappropriate” warnings (see number two here). These facts are absent from the BBC report.

But let’s look at it another way. Perhaps the Beeb’s headline-writer was using the word “Olympic” to mean “very big”, in a similar way that Little Chef has an “Olympic Breakfast” on its menu that wouldn’t exactly fit into the diet plan of a world-class athlete. And, once the dust has settled, maybe the police could tell us exactly how many cyclists they have had to apprehend on their patrols of Box Hill. The problem, despite the complaints, may not be Olympic-sized after all.

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