Le Grand Depart
Who could resist going to see the Tour de France's first visit to Yorkshire? Certainly not me. We have a friend in York whom we'd been meaning to visit for some time (since our last visit when CycleSeven cycled the Dales in fact!) so this was the perfect opportunity. We took the train from Southampton and it soon became clear that we weren't the only ones with this idea. The further north we went the more cyclists got on – the ones without bikes were easily identifiable from their choice of reading matter, all with the same story of inviting themselves to stay with long lost friends and relations. There was quite a buzz on the train but it was nothing to the atmosphere when we arrived in York to find it full of yellow bicycles.
The plan for Saturday was very simple – take the train to Harrogate and watch the finish. Unfortunately rather a lot of other people had the same idea! Extra train carriages had been laid on but they were still absolutely packed. Fortunately someone immediately gave up their seat for our friend Dorothy who is in her eighties but Dennis and I were standing all the way in a carriage that made the London Underground at rush hour look spacious! The short journey took about an hour and a half but the atmosphere was very good natured. When some poor soul was taken ill a message was passed along the train in the time honoured fashion "Tell the driver the ambulance will be at the next station. Pass it on." Effective but hard to believe in this age of electronic communications! All the stations were decked out in bunting and 2 ladies were hanging little knitted Tour jerseys on the fence as we passed.
Dennis and Dorothy took one look at the crowds in Harrogate and decided to return to York. They had a point, it was absolutely packed. I tried watching the race on the big screen for a while but I couldn't really see much and headed off in search of a much needed cup of tea. Just round the corner a large church was serving refreshments and also showing the race coverage. It was a perfect haven and I spent a happy hour in there eating and watching the race. They even had a bicycle display in the church!
I left this peaceful haven and joined the madding crowd in an effort to see something of the finish. The volume of noise as the riders passed was unbelievable but I'm afraid that all I actually saw was the top of a few helmets! I didn't know that Cav had crashed until someone told me on the train! I legged it back to the station in an attempt to beat the crowds but the police had barriered off the road outside so I needed to go a long way down the road to a crossing point then fight my way back through the milling throng. By the time I reached the station the queue stretched right round the perimeter of the car park and a long way back down the road. I resigned myself to a long wait. Miraculously it wasn't too bad. I managed to get on the second train and even managed to get a seat.
I had intended to head into the centre of York to watch the start the next day but after the crowds of Harrogate I decided to try to see the race as it left the Knavesmire Racecourse. This was a good plan as it was within walking distance of Dorothy's house and arriving early meant we got a spot in the front row. There was a tremendous carnival atmosphere and the large police presence was softened by the fact that they were all wearing yellow hats for the occasion! I was stood opposite the team car driven by Malcolm Elliott, one of the best British riders of the 80s. Dennis was more impressed by the Lancaster bomber that flew over with a Spitfire on its tail. It certainly was a splendid sight.
The first stage from the racecourse was neutralised and as I was positioned just after a sharp bend I managed to get a good view of the riders as they passed relatively slowly amidst much cheering and clapping.
The cavalcade disappeared, the helicopters buzzed further into the distance. Nothing else to do but walk back and watch the rest of the stage on the telly!