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With central Delhi emptied for Commonwealth Games cycling Sunday, India presented a desolate face which had more in common with the opening of an apocalyptic zombie horror film.
There were no spectators anywhere on the road race course winding around Connaught Square, with police having shut all access roads and the streets around the city’s iconic markets, gardens and monuments eerily still.
Newspapers blew across the deserted Ashoka Road and Parliament Street as a handful of officials, outnumbered by hungry-looking, flea-bitten dogs, tried to look busy with no crowd to control.
The intention was to secure the race amid fears over terrorist attacks in the normally bustling city but it left some participants wondering if the authorities had been over-zealous in their decision to scrap atmosphere in favour of peace of mind.
England’s Katie Conclough, who finished 16th said: “There wasn’t much atmosphere. The crowd was very bare apart from the armed guards everywhere.
“It was a shame to have had this big event and not have many people out there to watch it.”
Stands had been put up along the course but were deserted as traffic restrictions and a lack of public transport deprived fans of an opportunity to get anywhere near the racers.
Elaborate security included helicopter assault teams, commando hit squads along the route and quick reaction police units.
The road race course took in most of the city centre’s major thouroughfares including Parliament Street, Janpath and Vijay Chowk and traffic was stopped at barricades blocking 15 roads.
“To facilitate traffic and security arrangements, these routes were closed from midnight,” a senior police official was quoted as saying in the Times of India, adding that no crossing roads on the event route was allowed.
Olympic champion Nicole Cooke, who finished outside the medals, said: “Apart from a couple of photographers and the armed guards there was no one out there.”
An Australian agency photographer told AFP that the whole scene was simply eerie.
“It should be pretty spectacular around Parliament Street ─ you should be able to get a good shot ─ but it was weird,” he said. “The whole place was just empty.”