If anyone was in any doubt that cycling is taking off in this country have a look at the crowds that lined the route at this year’s Tour of Britain. The number of spectators at some of the climbs was reminiscent of the Alpine climbs at the Tour de France and there is no doubt that the British public turned out for the Tour of Britain in their thousands. I was inLondon yesterday for the final split stage and if you wasn’t there trust me, the place was rocking…
For the second successive race in the UK I found it a logistical nightmare to get to London on a Sunday morning, it’s actually easier to go to the Spring Classics in Belgium than it is to use public transport between Dover and London. As it was, I had to drive 20 minutes to Ashford to catch a train that arrived in London around 09:00.
Arriving in Whitehall I commenced a search for the Media Centre as TSF has, for the second time this season, obtained media accreditation. An indication, I think, of how far this website has come and recognition of our efforts. Unfortunately nobody appeared to know where the Media Centre was and I was directed up and downWhitehall several times before I temporarily abandoned my mission to acquire that wonderful piece of plastic that allows access all areas and wandered over to Horse Guards Avenue where the team buses were starting to arrive. Fortunately at the end of the road I saw that Tour staff were erecting a sign indicating that the Media Centre was situated within an extremely plush hotel the like of which was so opulent, and no doubt expensive, that I would not normally even begin to contemplate frequenting.
After the doorman had opened the door for me, wished me a good morning and offered to carry my laptop (politely declined – I doubt that I could afford the tip!), I made my way to the 2nd floor where I signed-in and was provided with that priceless accreditation card. Heartfelt thanks to Peter Hodges at the ToB for making this happen.
Suitably accredited I returned to the buses where the place was heaving. Most popular of course was the Sky bus, closely followed by Garmin and HTC’S surprisingly small campervan.
ITV’S Ned Bolting, together with camera and sound man, was conducting an interview with Julian Dean and when he had finished I asked him to sign my copy of his book ‘How I Won the Yellow Jumper’ a review of which I posted to this site shortly after its release.
Although I had a pass swinging from my neck endorsed ‘media’ I remain a cycling fan, make that fanatic, that follows, photographs and blogs races at my own considerable expense. Content that I was not abusing my position I made my way to the Sky bus where the riders had just arrived. I had brought with me some photographs that I had taken at previous races and of which I am rather proud, I was delighted when Geraint, Ben Swift and Mat Hayman put pen to photo and I will now have to source some decent frames to hang them.
Back to the racing, I wandered over to the time-trial start and took up position with the assembled media. Glancing through the start list it struck me just how far the Tour of Britain has come. The quality of riders this year was probably the best field ever assembled for the race, who would have thought a few years ago that our Tour would attract the current World Champion, the current TdF Green Jersey winner and previous winner of the TdF King of the Mountains? This race of ours really has come on in leaps and bounds and is now seen as an ideal preparation race ahead of the World Championship’s (Come on Cav..!).
Just as the race has grown and improved, so too have the number of spectators.Whitehallwas packed. As far as I could see the barriers were two or three deep. Every rider was cheered off and supported but the loudest cheers were reserved for not just the British riders but crowd favourites such as Bernie Eisel, Mark Renshaw, Thor Husovd and race leader Lars Boom who all received tremendous acknowledgement. This indicated to me that the spectators had not just come out to watch a bike race or support the Tour of Britain but were enthusiastic cycling fans that know and love their sport. The fact that the number of fans is clearly increasing year-on-year is really is encouraging.
Obviously the Sky boy’s were popular, the number of Sky jersey’s, hats and flags lining the route made it quite apparent who the home crowd were rooting for. The 2nd loudest cheer of the day however (the loudest was to come later) was reserved for one certain individual who when he took his place on the start ramp was greeted with adulation that I swear genuinely moved him. There is no doubting Mr Cavendish’s popularity amongst the British cycling fans.
The morning time trial was in my opinion an inspired idea. It gave the spectators the opportunity to see every rider and despite its relatively short length also affected the overall classification. If you are reading this you will probably know that Alex Dowsett won the time trial but Steve Cummings excellent 4th place raised him to 2nd overall and ‘G’ now had a real shot at the point’s jersey in the afternoon. Whilst Lars Boom had won the Tour of Britain barring a complete disaster there was still positions and a jersey to fight for.
After his win Alex Dowsett said, “It’s amazing; its one of those things I would hopefully tell my children in years to come. It’s going to take a while to sink in. London has been pretty kind to me, it’s amazing. Today has shown that I can mix it with the top guys and onwards and upwards hopefully”.
It would be a few hours before Stage 8B which gave me an opportunity to return to the Media Centre and upload the mornings photo’s onto my laptop in order that I could start snapping away in the afternoon with an empty memory card. Meanwhile the crowds were entertained by the IG Markets Hot Lap and The Prostrate Cancer Charity Tour Ride.
Around 3 o’clock I took up position reserved for media approximately 100m after the finish line. Riders had started to sign on and shortly before 15:45 the entire field had assembled. An impressive sight and a line-up that would not look out of place at any major race in mainland Europe.
From the off Ronan McLaughlin (AN Post) attacked and was shortly joined by Kristian House from Rapha Condor Sharp. For the next 8 laps of the 5.5 mile circuit they maintained a lead that was rarely allowed to exceed 40 seconds. The crowd, kept up to date by an excellent commentary and for those that could see it a big screen erected near the finish, cheered and applauded every pass, banging the boards with all their might. Unfortunately with just 2 laps to go the forecast rain made an appearance which could potentially affect the predicted finish.
Lap 9 and the breakaway were all but caught. The atmosphere was tangible. Cav was naturally everyone’s favourite if it came down to a sprint finish. But will he risk it in the worsening conditions?
Lap 10, and everyone strains to see the leading riders, this time without an advance guard of lead vehicles and outriders. At the finish line you could hear their approach long before you could see them. I pointed my camera at the line and kept my finger on the button…
This was by far the loudest cheer of the day..!
The crowd reaction to the win reminded me of the same response in the Sky corner when Cav won a certain stage on an equally famous road in Paris a couple of months age. It really was a great moment.
It was only later when I got home and watched ITV4’s excellent highlights that I realised how far back Cav was when he started his sprint. He obviously wanted to win the final stage at his home tour and I am convinced that the support he received earlier in the day, and to be fair throughout the tour, provided him with the added motivation and incentive. It was quite simply a magnificent sprint…
Afterwards he said. “I didn’t want to take too many risks today with the Worlds coming up. It was a wet finish and I saw (Ben) Swift lose his wheel on the second last corner so I backed off on the last corner and ended up 20 metres behind coming out the last corner. I thought it was too far back to get it but I went for it anyway and I came through on the line”.
“It’s been really good to come away with three stage wins this week, can’t get much better. Not only that we go three first and second placing’s which is superb. Since 2007 and this year, to see how much The Tour has grown is amazing. It’s great to see all the support”
“It’s been perfect preparation for me for next week. The Vuelta looked too hard with too many crashes. I was able to control my training and I won two stages which was good.”
Steve Cummings held on to take an excellent 2nd overall and almost overlooked amongst the furore surrounding Cav’s win, Geraint Thomas’ excellent 4th place meant that he secured the points jersey and Team Sky won the overall team classification.
After the presentation Geraint said, “We wanted to win the race and crashing on Stage Six didn’t help, and with Lars (Boom) sprinting so well we were always up against it. We thought that after a fifth this morning, I moved ahead of Cavendish so we thought we may as well go for it and try and get on the podium. Fortunately we did and the lads did a great job. (Ben) Swift took me to the line. I had to get fifth if Cav won and fortunately I got fourth”.
“A lot of ups and downs this week, quite literally as well. Every day we got stuck in and attacked the race. We learned a lot from last year and definitely improved from there. With only a couple of pro tour teams here everyone looks to us to control the race and make it hard so we’re making no excuses and I think we did well. Hopefully we can come back next year and win that gold jersey”.
“Unbelievable support this week, especially the stage in Wales. We finished ten miles from my home in Cardiff where I grew up so it was great to ride on those roads in front of so many of my mates and fans was unbelievable. The crowds across the whole week are getting bigger all the time.”
Race winner Lars Boom (Rabobank) summed the race up, “It was awesome. London is a very nice city. It’s a lovely country, I didn’t expect that. The public was awesome, a lot of cheering so it was a great week for us”.
“I wanted to win this morning, I felt confident on the halfway so I lost a little bit”.
“Our team was very good this week, I was confident with them behind me so there was no problem”.
“It’s different riding with six guys in the team. You see that HTC – Highroad are a bit less strong than normally maybe. We had a really good team with the guys who were here and I was feeling confident everyday.”
After the presentation I made my way back towards the team buses where a fair few riders and fans were mingling. Most professional cyclists accept that fan interaction is a given, some however are better at this than others. Honourable mention here to Bernhard Eisel who made a point of signing anything and everything that was thrust at him and posing for countless photographs, his general demeanour and patience with the public, particularly the kids, was humbling and something a few of his colleagues could learn from. Cav returned from the presentation and was mobbed. Fair play he signed a few hats, shirts and programmes but if he had acceded to every request he would probably still be there at midnight, after a few minutes he made a dash for the campervan door and the security of the HTC inner sanctum.
Making my way towards the station I was pleased to see, and meet, fellow Sky fan and cycling enthusiast Bev Smerklo who had travelled down from Rugby with two mates. Whenever I post a blog to the TSF site Bev is usually the first to leave a nice comment so it was nice to put a face to a name and have a chat. Cheers Bev.
So, the Tour of Britain 2011 – without a doubt the biggest and in my opinion the best yet. Who knows if the result would have been any different had the weather not intervened on stage 2? Somehow I doubt it. Sky are probably disappointed that they did not take the main prize at their home tour for the second consecutive year, they can however take solace from a points jersey (again) the team classification and Steve Cummings excellent 2nd, particularly when you consider he was a late replacement for Peter Kennaugh.
As for the organisers of the race the bar has now been set very high and I’m already looking forward to next year…