The Day the Tour of Britain came to Town (Stage 8)
One of the supplements included in last months Cycling Plus magazine was an insert detailing the Tour of Britain. I recognised the dates of the race since they coincided with the family Summer holiday. On closer scrutiny Stage 8, the closest stage to home, was going to be held on Sunday 16th September - the last day of our holiday. And so the scene was set for a visit to Guildford.
Had I thought about it we could have watched the start in Reigate then drive to Guildford and see the riders come by twice later on. Unfortunately this piece of logsitics inspiration only occurred after the event, trudging down Guildford High Street having witnessed the third stage victory by the 'Manx Missile'. Joining me on this escapade was bikebritain contributor Lukey and Mr. Barns. Together, we did a pretty good impression of Japanese tourists with more camera kit at our disposal than was strictly necessary. Parking on the outskirts of Guildford town centre, Mr Barns and I walked in. It was about midday and already getting busy. We reached the High Street where (a) we were to meet Lukey and (b) we saw people already lining the barrier. Locating Lukey, we joined his vantage point and began the process of 'hanging around'.
Having seen 3 major cycling events this year, my general summary of the experience would be this; long periods of standing about with nothing going on (other than some dubious commentary) punctuated by a few moments of intense excitement. True to form, Stage 8 of the Tour of Britain followed this format. Despite a massive TV screen present, no pictures where on display, so we made do with the commentary team telling us how close the riders were. It was relatively easy to guage because prior to the cyclist appearing, most of the Surrey Police motorbike fleet roared up the High Street. I suspect they were enjoying the closed roads as much as the cyclists. The moment the riders came into view, I would say about 300 meters away from our position, the cheering erupted. This was the first time we would see the riders, this part of the race constituting an opportunity to win sprinting points. 4 riders belted up the cobbles, myself, Lukey and Mr.Barns frantically trying to take as many photos as we could in a couple of fleeting moments. These guys moved quickly, despite High Street presenting a reasonable incline. A few (more) police/race support motorbikes later the rest of the peloton rode by, led by Team Sky. Everyone cheered, banged or tinkled their cowbells, basically making as much noise as possible. And then they were gone. Their backsides disappeared up the hill and that was all we saw of them. The crowds soon dispersed and we decided to get a drink. I deliberated over buying (a) a Tour of Britain jersey for me and (b) a Tour of Britain jersey for Brendan, but at a combined £75 I decided against it. That was alot of money and strictly speaking it was a non-essential purchase.
One pint later, most of it spent being talked at by a 70 year old Welshman, we emerged from the pub and decided to take up a new position, slightly further up the road. It was getting really busy now. The large public screen had finally burst into life, showing live action images of the race - with about 60 km to go. However, the commentary was not in synch with the pictures. Evidently the commentary position was not in view of the screen - so what the majority of people were seeing (real-time), was unfortunately not what the professional commentators were seeing. Instead they were watching on an iPhone with dubious media streaming capability. We, however, were steadily counting down the kilometers. A couple of breakaways occured but no one rider managed to sustain their attack and slowly the peloton reeled them in one by one. The chasing pack split into a couple of smaller chasing groups, but by the time the riders rounded the corner into the High Street for the final time, Mark Cavendish had been positioned perfectly to launch an attack. We were about 250 meters from the finish. He was still behind the lead rider at this point. I was in trouble, needing to multitask. I left the camera on continuous advance and looked at the screen to see if he would time his attack correctly. He did. More riders passed our spot. More photos taken. Cavendish overtook the lead rider, storming away with his trademark power blitz. He won and the crowd went crazy. More riders passed by, accompanied by support motorcycles. We had managed to secure a great view and atmostphere was excellent. I would guess there were 10,000 people in the High Street to watch the finale. It was definitely worth the hanging around and it was equally entertaining discussing future cycling plans with Lukey and our RIDE24 antics with Mr.Barns. With that, the crowds started to disperse and we joined them. A satisfying day all round, with Jonathan Tiernan-Locke winning the overall classification, becoming the first Englishman in 19 years to win the event and Saur Sojasun winning the team prize. Can't wait till next time!
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Words and Thumbnail Image - bikebritain Ltd
Slider Image - Luke Remsbery