Spectating a professional cycling race

I made my way into Bristol yesterday to watch the finale of Stage 4 of the Tour of Britain. When compared to other sports, watching a cycling event is quite a strange experience. You hang around on the side of the road not really knowing what’s going on in the race, eventually a procession of police motorbikes and press cars come through with sirens and horns blaring which excites the crowd and then finally the riders stream past with everyone clapping, cheering and seeing if they can recognise any of them. Which is generally difficult with their faces concealed beneath sunglasses and helmets. It’s a very fleeting experience which can feel like a bit of an anti-climax. Everyone mills about afterwards for a few minutes chatting about what they thought they’d seen and looking on their phones to find out what was actually happening. And that’s it. It’s finished.

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The race finally arrives

I had a good day out, meeting up with some friends and cycling 40 miles in total. It was also a beautiful, sunny day so hanging around on the side of a road for an hour wasn’t too much of a hardship. It’s also quite amusing to overhear the typically banal chat from other cycling fans discussing the intricacies of their equipment. Being a cyclist really brings out your inner nerd.

There’s definitely something unique about how close you can get to the race. It would be chaos if football fans could touch the players or shout in their faces while they were playing. And it was good to head over to the finish line afterwards and see the riders cooling down outside their team buses. Formula 1 fans pay thousands for that sort of access. Watching cycling is free.

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The Team Sky bus was pulling the biggest crowd

I got caught in a bit of rush hour traffic on the return home. For someone who lives in a little village and does most of his riding on quiet country lanes this is fortunately a rare experience. I was faced with a dilemma: sit behind a mile-long queue of cars breathing in their fumes, or ride up the middle of the road with the motorbikes and face a few shouted comments from white-van-men about riding on the wrong side of the road etc. Nobody likes sitting in traffic so I guess cyclists can provide a focus for some people’s frustration. But I’m not quite sure I understand why nobody minds a motorbike doing the same.

Saying goodbye to the city

Saying goodbye to the city

Tour of Britain 2011 – Stage 6: Taunton to Wells

I took this Friday off work to join my cycling-enthusiast neighbours and their friend on a mission to Cheddar and Wells to watch Stage 6 of the Tour of Britain. We set off from Bristol at 10am and headed along the country lanes where we were joined by several other cyclists en route, so that by the time we arrived into Cheddar we had amassed our own peloton of riders. We stopped at a busy cafe in Cheddar for coffee and cake before making our way up Cheddar Gorge in preparation for the race.

The limestone gorge in the Mendip Hills provided a stunning backdrop to the race as we stood at the side of the road to cheer on the riders.

Once the riders and their entourage of cameramen, police motorcycles, race stewards, support cars, repair vehicles and a ‘broom wagon’ had all eventually passed we joined the thousands of other cycling spectators making our way from Cheddar to Old Bristol Hill for the next viewing point.

This stage of the Tour had been cleverly laid out to allow for three potential viewing locations which trebled the enjoyment for spectators and trebled the supportive cheers for the riders as they attempted to conquer the steep hills of Somerset. But if there’s one thing to make a day better for everybody it’s the sight of a middle aged man sprinting in a mankini.

We shouted and cheered the riders up Old Bristol Hill and shortly after seeing Mankini-Man jogging back down the hill with bright red slap marks on his bum we set off for Wells and the finishing line.

In Wells we joined the party by scrambling up any available wall (or tree) to get a good view of the finishing line. The atmosphere was great as we watched Lars Boom sprint across the line for a relatively simple win (later that evening I saw tv highlights and the terrible crash on the last corner which basically presented him the victory).

From Wells we headed back to Bristol taking on the King of the Mountains climb of Old Bristol Hill and several long flat stretches with killer cross-winds before struggling up Belmont Hill for the final climb back to Clifton. In total we covered 60 miles on a day of great Tour spectating and enjoyable and challenging cycling. I will be back again next year …