My mum has been wanting to write a guest post for ages, so when she excitedly text me moments after the Tour de France passed her, asking if I’d like her to write something, I couldn’t say no. She is undoubtedly my biggest fan and supporter, and was definitely the blogs only reader for a good few months when it first got going. She’s embraced my new found obsession with running and exercise, and become a little bit excited herself, even taking herself off on cycling holidays!
‘Having recently completed the Novice route of the Human Race Cycletta at Woburn Abbey, I have become a bit of a cycle groupie, almost bursting into tears watching Mark Cavendish crash in the final 250 metres of Stage 1 on TV. I could hardly wait to start walking to my chosen spot on Epping New Road yesterday morning as Le Tour came through Essex during Stage 3.
But let’s back up a bit. Local roads have been manicured to within an inch of their tarmac. Workmen began removing weeds from central reservations a week ago, verges have been trimmed and lurking litter was lifted yesterday by long-haired gentlemen. This morning, as my husband cycled to work on deserted roads, the street sweepers were removing any last bit of debris from the gutters. Pubs have also been spruced up with bunting and loud music hoping to attract punters for breakfast and lunch. Bouncy castles were in evidence too, as many of the local schools closed for the day due to the road closures.
Maybe these road closures should become a regular feature of Essex life – it was lovely and quiet and good to see so many people walking. Despite instructions that nobody should cycle on these deserted thoroughfares, many men in lycra were whizzing down the route, as were aspiring young yellow jerseys. Footballs and frisbees were being kicked and thrown about, creating a party atmosphere on the pavements through Epping Forest. One enterprising couple were walking up and down selling Pimms from their pushchair!
I was momentarily confused – being a new groupie – as some Sky Team riders cycled past me in their dark blue skin tight gear. Surely they were a little early. Then I realised that, just like football fans, cyclists buy the ‘strip’ and wear it with pride. And of course, you would expect serious cyclists to look lean and mean in their lycra…
So I relaxed into my chair, tucked into my cheese and crackers, coffee and cookie – seriously they did all begin with c – and waited for the Caravan. (It really is called that!) The sponsors get to drive by in a variety of motorised floats, with music, dancing girls and guys whose purpose in life, I discovered as I was garrotted by a white cow( thanks RAGT Semences) is to throw out samples. I did wonder what was happening when I saw children rushing for the gutters but soon joined them to collect a box of Yorkshire Tea, a foldaway Frisbee and a little drink sachet. The cow was forced upon me!
It is a slightly nerve racking business waiting for Le Tour. There are so many flashing lights, a multitude of men on motorbikes, and numerous empty roof racks that you imagine the Peloton must be just around the corner. The crowd was growing all the time, with people hacking through the undergrowth to reach the road – although why they didn’t use the gate a hundred metres down, I don’t know. BBQ smoke rose from a nearby forest carpark and still punters cycled defiantly on the closed roads. Crowds parted for noisy ‘gendarmes’ all the way from France and then joined together again like the Red Sea after Moses – is this one big jolly, I wondered?
Before I knew it, it was upon us. The outriders multiplied onto both sides of the A104, there was another car with its lights flashing, two more cyclists riding by, one casually having a snack and I realised these were the leaders! It was all pretty quiet, reminding me of the elite runners at Silverstone who were past me before I even noticed. Cheering was subdued as people experienced the event from behind their lenses and camera phones. However they soon were woken from the trance as the Peloton was upon us and our trigger fingers went crazy to capture the moment. I heard the whiz of four hundred wheels and that really was it.
Following the riders are a long, long line of support vehicles, loaded with spare state-of-the-art bicycles, flashing lights and waving hands.’
I used my lunch break to head down to The Mall to try to catch a glimpse of this epic ride, however it seems that every office worker and tourist in the city had the same idea. My view was limited, and it wasn’t until they had cycled past and not such breakneck speeds that I realised I hadn’t even seen them racing, rather about 30 seconds after they’d finished! Still, I’m glad I was able to be part of the electric atmosphere- and I hope Le Tour will be back in the not too distant future!
In the meantime, if they have any spare bikes, I could provide a very good home to one…