Behind the Scenes at Box Hill

Wow, what a time we’re having at Box Hill and the big event doesn’t even kick off until tomorrow!

In case you’ve spent the last few months in living in retreat in Tibet, I should explain that one of the first big events of the 2012 Olympics – Britain’s new favourite sport  Road Cycling – comes to the National Trust’s very own Box Hill this weekend.

On Saturday the men’s teams – including Team GB poster boys Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins fresh from his Tour De France victory –  will complete nine ascents of the cruelly steep Zig Zag road. A day later the women will tackle the hill twice.

And yesterday, with comparatively little fuss and bother, the world’s best cyclists came to Box Hill to do a few practise laps. Some chose to ride in tightly-knit team groups (yes, we’re looking at you Switzerland). While others rode solo or mingled freely with their international rivals, men and women riding together sharing a laugh and a joke. One of the Costa Ricans even stopped for a chat with a friend he’d spotted at the roadside.

The pace was relaxed by Olympian standards (though still about twenty times faster than I could manage it – assuming I even made it past the first steep ascent) and of course all of team GB were there, looking confident on their home turf. You can see highlights here:

Box Hill has been a long time preparing for this event and it’s no secret that we’ve faced a few challenges on the way. It’s no easy task turning an incredibly sensitive and fragile wildlife habitat into a major international sporting venue – and back again – but fingers crossed we’ve just about managed to pull it off. The rangers have been working round the clock with Locog to make sure the event runs like clockwork; the volunteers who help to look after the hill all year round have been briefed, and even the catering team have been pumping-up their tea-pouring arms ready to serve around 15,000 cuppas.

Under cover of darkness, internationally renowned landscape artist Richard Long paid a visit to the hill and made his mark –  a mark which should be visible to millions of people around the world during Saturday’s race. Today Box Hill is looking beautiful in the sunshine, the grassland habitat is flourishing and even the butterflies are starting to flutter after a damp and soggy start to the year. We’re ready to welcome the world.

If you want to keep in touch with the latest information on Box Hill, follow countryside manager Andrew Wright on Twitter @AndyBoxHill.

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