The Tour de France

Earlier in June I cycled part of The Tour de France. Next weekend I’ll be riding the whole of Stage 1. However, this weekend just gone was THE REAL THING, and I (along with one-or-two others) was there!

Saturday

An early start, leaving the house at 4am to drive down to Swaledale. We were one of the first cars into Langthwaite, but fortunately Liz had prepared breakfast for us to have in the car while the rain beat down on the roof. By around 7am the rain was easing (as forecast), and we took a steady walk down to Reeth. The village green was already busy, and a buzz of anticipation in the air. We carried on down, by The Dales Bike Centre, picking up our tickets for the event centre so we could watch the big screen later.

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Our chosen viewing spot for the day was the Côte de Grinton Moor, the final King of the Mountains stage. We were ridiculously early, but it allowed us to claim a good viewing spot where we could look back to the first part of the climb, see the flat upto the bridge, and then have the riders come directly at us on the second kick-up before 1km to-go.

There was great pre-caravan entertainment, with a gorilla running around and a brass two-piece band. Finally the caravan arrive, with their dispensing copious amounts of tat.

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Then it’s another wait, punctuated by the odd official car or motorbike racing through, and then the helicopters come into view. Jens Voight has made a solo breakaway, and is cheered up the final major hill.

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A couple of minutes later the whole seething mass of the peloton come over the brow of the hill and race around past us. I know from riding this hill recently it’s do-able, but these guys make it look like its flat.

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Once the end-of-race car comes by, thousands of people start making their way down the hill. By the time we reach Reeth the race is in the final 20km. The sun is out, we’re on the grass with friends, what could be better than a win for Cav? 200 metres to go, and it all falls apart. Cav is off and injured – disaster. The reaction from the crowd at Reeth, on the TV in Harrogate, and I’m sure around the country is despair and disbelief. So near and yet so far. Get well soon Cav.

Liz and I have a long 5 mile walk in the burning sun back to the car before we head off to stay with my mother in Sheffield where I’m planning to watch Stage 2.

Sunday

My plan for today was to park “relatively close” and then cycle in. This probably meant Ladybower Reservoir, and then a brutal cycle via The Strines.  Even given the number of people on the road, I still managed to cycle right up to High Bradfield to the route (which didn’t seem to be the default activity for most with a bicycle).  From there, once on the route, it was seriously crowded, with pushing the only option.

After making my way through the melee to the KOM line, I realised I wouldn’t get a place here, so carried on for a couple of hundred metres and sat at the roadside.  At this point I saw I had a text from my mate Patrick, so called him to find he was a mike down the road with his family. A quick cycle down there secured my spot for the day. We were on the fast descent from Cote de Bradfield, and had a view across the valley to Côte de Oughtibridge. Great to be with friends, and before you know it the caravan was coming through and then the riders.

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While Saturday had seen Jens Voight get a two minute lead, today had blown the peloton to bits. Sky were on the front (and we’d see on TV later Froome taking charge on Côte de Jenkin Road), but there were at least three big groups, plus many line riders zooming by, tucked in their aero positions, no accompanying cars or motorcycles. Indeed, later on many people thought the race was done and were walking home along the road, and then from up the road would come a cry of “here’s another one!” and people would scatter to the roadside.

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As I had a fair bike home, I left before the broom wagon and dropped down to Strines, before the steep climb back up to the A57 and on to Ladybower. I arrived home to see the last couple of games at Wimbledon before a quick shower and heading down the road to Essex.

Monday

Liz’s folks had kindly put us in their diary two years ago when the Grand Depart was announced, and now here we were. Parking had been arranged in Writtle, and we were sat by the roundabout just after the feedstation.

When the race finally arrived there was a break of two that would eventually be caught beside the Thames, and three minutes later the rest of the group, all eating whatever they’d ordered for the feed station. As they zoomed by a whole cloud of gel and bar wrappers were dragged along in their slipstream.

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And then it was over. Time to head back home and watch from the TV. It had been an exhausting three days, but not something you could miss when it visits our country. If the schedule is this punishing as a spectator, what must it be like as a participant?

Writing up now, its Wednesday and Chris Froome has withdrawn after a hard day on the cobbles. I think we had it easy in the spring in Flanders. Now the tour begins, again.

 

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