Tour of Britain 2009

2009-09-18, Comments

I took my bike to Fred Baker cycles to investigate a transmission problem — the freehub sometimes failed to latch, especially after freewheeling. It turned out the whole wheel needed changing. They had some basic quality spares in the shop but I decided to order a decent replacement. The bike was still usable.

That evening I watched the Tour of Britain highlights programme on ITV4. The Stage 5 route was a slog through the potteries. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but the event seemed low-key: minor roads, poor surfaces, huddles of school kids clutching flimsy flags. Maybe the over-enthusiastic commentary put me off: those slopes weren’t mountains, hardly hills even, and three spectators doesn’t make a crowd. I missed the slick pazazz of the well rehearsed Tour de France coverage.

Nonetheless, I decided to check out the event for real. After all, the statistics showed the riders were going every bit as fast as any stage in a proper tour, and Stage 6 would be starting in Frome, not 30 miles away.

Road closure

The next morning was a glorious one for cycling. The bike seemed fine. I avoided freewheeling and got to Frome before 9. The race was to start from Market Yard Car Park. I bought a bacon roll and a coffee, snaffled some energy bar samples, listened to the live event radio, wandered around the town centre. They’d held a Cobble Wobble race up Catherine Hill the evening before, and the shop windows along the street had cycle-themed displays. At about 9:30 a posse of police motorbike riders rolled up. A good day to commit a crime, someone said. Soon after came the team cars, glossy road bikes strapped to their roofs.

Police bikes

Having watched a few riders sign in I decided to head out of town. I wanted to see the peleton at full speed, not rolling out of a car park. I was surprised to be allowed to use the actual stage route less than half an hour before the race was due to start. As I climbed the hill out of town I noticed a crowd of pupils standing in front of their school at the side of the road. They wore bright yellow reflective vests. As I passed, out of the saddle and stamping hard on the pedals, they cheered and waved their flags.

Here they come!

A few miles down the road I found a good place to stop. For the next 20 minutes police riders flashed by. It seemed more like a motorbike race than a bicycle race. All of a sudden the peleton arrived, at speed. Seconds later, they were gone.

On my way back, just before Pensford, my freehub abruptly and finally stopped working. I now had a bike suitable for downhill only. I got a taxi back into Bristol. Later that evening I watched the TV coverage. I saw Somerset and Devon bathed in sunshine, a high-speed breakaway topping Exmoor, pegged back by a ruthless peleton alongside the Torridge estuary, a last gasp sprint. Colour me convinced.