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LONDON SCENE: In city alive with possibilities, stumbling onto cycling race

Editor’s Note: In addition to covering athletes and events at the Summer Olympics, Cronkite News Service reporters are offering occasional observations about their experiences.

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LONDON – You never know what’s around the corner at the London Olympics.

On Sunday, I got off the Tube at Hyde Park Corner, expecting to be greeted by trees and birds. Instead, I emerged to find temporary barricades blocking off the course of the women’s cycling road race.

The crowd lining the road was big enough to make it feel exciting but small enough that it was easy to find a good vantage point. Some fans draped flags over the barriers, while others draped them over their backs and wore them like capes.

You don’t need a ticket to watch the long-distance events, which is a treat for fans. There’s very little else that’s cheap, much less free, at the Olympics. The mood was sunny and relaxed as fans watched the cyclists warm up. The occasional drizzle did little to dampen it.

London resident Emma Riley viewed the race with Guy Cooke, also from England, after watching the men’s road race the day before. Despite the upset of Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish, they enjoyed the event and came back with the hope that their country’s women’s team would fare better.

“I love cycling,” Cooke said. “Fresh from the Tour de France. Great to see it live.”

“Even if it’s raining,” Riley added.

Susie Lederer, a former Londoner who is from Germany and now lives in Colorado, also came with some friends to cheer on Great Britain. She wore a hooded windbreaker to keep the rain off and the Union Jack tied around her neck, Clark Kent style. It’s her first time at the Olympics.

“It’s just fun seeing so many people out and cheering and everyone’s happy,” Lederer said.

The warm-ups finished, the rain stopped and the race was on. A fleet of security escorts and pace vehicles led the way, then the cyclists buzzed by in their colorful uniforms. The fans clapped and cheered and then it was done, for those watching anyway.

Several hours later, Lizzie Armitstead captured the silver medal, Britain’s first medal in this year’s games, giving those fans another reason to cheer.