Watching the tour de France in Britain : OTLEY / CAMBRIDGE
I’ve always liked to follow the tour; when I was younger my dad used to take me to the great stages of the Pyrenees, such as the summit of Tourmalet, to watch my cycling heroes make their way across a stage in the most renowned and difficult road bike race – the Tour de France.
So as many other likeminded individuals, I was extremely excited to find out that the Tour would be starting in England! I knew that I wanted to be right there in the middle of the action and with a helping hand from a conveniently placed work experience placement with Rutland Cycling, I had the opportunity to do just that.
My preparations for the weekend began on Friday morning. We wanted to ensure that we beat the rush on Saturday morning as we were travelling down to Leeds to stay the night at my sister’s, Holly, uni digs, under the pre-requisite to get an early night close to the start but in reality it was more to sample the Friday night nightlife in Leeds.
A night out in the north left me slightly bleary eyed but raring to go. We travelled to a town named Otley approximately 15 miles outside of Leeds. The sun was shining (unusual for Yorkshire) and the place was heaving with fellow Tour enthusiasts. Despite it being 11 in the morning the beers were flowing throughout the crowd and there were the customary mass cheers for anything and everything that went past on the course route. We squeezed our way down through the town, where the streets were filled with yellow balloons, bunting and cycle jerseys.
We soon made camp and tucked into our strategically packed supplies of a Sainsbury’s meal deals and some Haribos. The sun beat down onto the rows of spectators and the atmosphere slowly began to build. The cavalcade coming through only added to the excitement, as in true British fashion we scrambled for official Tour freebies. By 12 o clock the excitement was at fever pitch, with a continual hum of voices repeatedly saying ‘they can’t be far away now’. The minutes seemed hours as we watched the helicopters fly over, signalling that the riders weren’t far away, and the thousands of onlookers dropped their bacon rolls and pushed to the barriers to get the best view possible. The riders flew past in seconds, the sounds of the wheels bombing along the tarmac and the clicking of cameras grew louder all around me. Of course, as often happens when watching the Tour, the riders had passed us in a matter of seconds, but it was all worth it to say ‘I was there when the Tour came to Yorkshire’.
After arriving home on Saturday I took a day to recover before heading off to Cambridge on Monday. This time I was to be joined by two individuals that were polar opposites of the cycling world. One of these people was to be Steve Watson, the Self-titled Godfather of Rutland Cycling and an avid road biker in his home in the Pyrenees. The other was my girlfriend Casey, who to be fair did her best, but was more interested in the variety of shops in Cambridge rather than the cycle race. We set off early and arrived in Cambridge at 10.30. Once again the weather was kind to us and to see Cambridge with no cars was surreal! We headed towards the centre and left Steve to go and explore Parker’s Piece where the riders would be signing. Cambridge was a sea of colour and activity, with the market in full swing and the people in fine spirits.
As the start of the race drew nearer, we found ourselves stood outside Boots, unable to move further down the road due to the sheer number of people stood in expectant anticipation watching the race. You could hear the cheers flow through the streets and spread like wildfire as the riders made their way through Cambridge towards us. This time the riders were much slower and you could hear them talking to each other, discussing tactics of the race ahead. Of course by this time, Cavendish had already been ruled out of the Tour, but we cheered Froome and the other British riders as they started on the final stage of the Tour in England, and once they’d gone, we finished our day in true Cambridge fashion by punting our way down the river, past the backs of the colleges of the universities.
Though both days offered two very different experiences, they were equally exciting. I was blessed with fantastic weather and incredible atmospheres on both my visits for the Tour de France 2014