Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Pothole story scoops Ride London Surrey Classic in local press

IT’s a week since I joined the throng on West Street to watch the best pros in the world hurtle past the end of my road. This was the fifth annual Prudential Ride London Surrey Classic which this year was awarded the top rating, UCI World Cup status.

You may recall that the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff snatched the victory in a bunch sprint on The Mall after one of the most exciting road races we have seen, full of action and attacking riding throughout.

The pro race was the climax to a day which began with 25,000 charity riders in the Prudential Ride London 100 warming up the course for the pros, albeit taking a slightly shorter route through the Surrey Hills before rushing – some struggling -  back to the capital, ahead of the race.

The pro race hit my town at around 3.20 in the afternoon, lapping the town four times. So how did my local paper, the Dorking Advertiser, report this unique event?  

They didn’t! Their front page scoop was about a pothole. Nothing about the pro race at all!
Yes, they majored on the danger of pothole and how marshals had to warn  the charity riders to beware it. Gave this the front page.
This was on a par with a recent front page story of a driver given a £60 parking ticket for leaving a front wheel sticking millimetres out of a parking bay! Ah, good parochial stories.

The passage of the biggest single day professional road race in Britain, featuring many of the top teams from the Tour de France and including points champion Michael Matthews, was of no consequence.

The “preview” the week before – a few paragraphs in the things worth seeing section – gave the charity ride a brief mention But nothing about the race passing through town four times, no time table, nothing about the technical hilly course through the hills above the town. Nothing about the star riders.  In the past they gave the race a decent showing. This time, zilch.  
Unless the big race story got lost at the printers! Doubt it. They simply didn't run it!

So how did they fill four pages?  

Curiously, the Dorking Ad contrived to write up the charity ride, without once mentioning anything at all about the pro race following hot on the heels of the amateurs!

Imagine a major pop concert and the music press failing to write up the headline act!

But clearly that’s not how the editorial team saw it. They decided that the charity ride was the exclusive story of the day, giving that a good write up, it must be said.  But they studiously avoided the other thing.

It’s a bit like reporting on a swimming gala and saying nothing about the GB Olympic swimming team doing a few lengths!

I’m left wondering how they achieved this.

There was plenty of scope for their reporters and photographers, plenty of action on the tough hilly course through the Surrey Hills all around - and where Team Sky tore the peloton to pieces – before the race headed one more time through the town centre and back to London via Box Hill.

The race came into town on the slightly downhill A25 from Westcott.  It hit the town at such speed you caught your breath. It was like an avalanche.  There were whoops of delight from spectators lining the kerbsides.

The three pubs on West Street were doing good business and the pavements outside were crowded with spectators agog at the action. Many were perhaps hoping for a glimpse of the likes of Andre Greipel, a name they would be familiar with from his sprinting exploits in Le Tour, although not this year when he failed to win one stage.

Even now, after decades of reporting the races from the inside, the spectacle of seeing a race going full tilt still excites.  The wow factor as 150 pairs of wheels rush by,  whipping dust and paper into the air,  the roar of the following team cars - looking like toast racks with expensive bikes slotted in them someone said -  and the beat of chopper blades overhead.

For just over an hour this controlled mayhem delighted the senses. That’s what people enjoyed. The town given over to sporting spectacle.

 The Kings Arms pub added to the carnival by showing live TV coverage in the bar so you could follow the action and dart outside again just before the breakaway came belting through with the field  right on their tail.

We could have been anywhere - Belgium, Holland, France, Italy. It seemed professional road racing has made its mark in Britain, too.

But not in my local paper!

This is how the Dorking Ad reported race day. The “race” for them was all about the charity ride. Oh, and a pothole.

They devoted the front page to the pothole and three inside pages to this “race”, and the moaners, just for balance!

The front page headline took some beating: “Why wasn’t pothole fixed before race?”

This was in inch-high thick Times Bold. And it took two reporters to put the story together

about how anxious marshals pointed out a hole in the road on West Street helping thousands of charity riders avoid disaster.

Well, clearly it’s a story, but front page?

They illustrated their story with probably the most undramatic picture ever, of a lone rider successfully avoiding the hole. In fact, not one of the 25,000 riders was reported to have hit it. Neither did the pros, I must presume.

Clearly, Surrey Council deserves a rocket.  And the marshals the riders thanks.

But the paper didn’t actually mention the Pro race once!

Not once. Not once in four pages. There were lots of pictures of the charity ride and one pic which 
looked as if might be the pro bunch – that unmistakable relaxed style. But there was caption to say so.

The front page was taken up with the hole.  Of course, we should be grateful to the newspaper for shaming Surrey Council’s highways department.

So that was the front page. What did they write about on the three inside pages given over to the event?

Well, it was good spread all about the charity ride and how many good causes will benefit, and how the event organisers will donate big sums to a local charity. They reported how those turning out to watch thoroughly enjoyed cheering on riders of all ages.  
One woman bystander said that as she gets locked in by this event and can’t do a thing about it she might as well be positive and come out and cheer the them on.  Surrey Hills residents take note!

The report noted that last year’s bike jam had been avoided by reducing the number of entrants to 25,000. The event went off smoothly, it said, although sadly one participant died – Maris Ozols, 67 -   who suffered a cardiac arrest on the shorter 46-mile route.

So what was on fourth and final page of the Advertiser's coverage of this great event? 

The fourth page was their piece de resistance, surpassing their front cover pothole scoop. It carried the following headline in big black letters: “County roads are being shut illegally during bike race”.

This told how residents of Surrey Hills have complained that the road closures are illegal. They have been complaining about this ever since the 2012 Olympic road races, saying that there are no alternative routes for them to use during the lengthy road closure.

Hugh Brasher, event director of Prudential RideLondon, replied saying that the road closures are “fully compliant with the law and the event has all the necessary permissions.”