Tour de France Prologue

A lucky shot of the time trial

“‘allo eengleesh, it is what you ‘ave been waiting for, ze famous caravan of ze Tour de France and ‘ere is it!”

In a blare of airhorns and to raptuous applause a twenty foot lion driven by a Frenchman in a crash helmet crawled across the bridge crossing the Serpentine, it could only be the Caravan Publicité of the Tour de France. This weird collection of carnival floats and spanking new 4x4s, staffed by surly looking students and deeply tanned young ladies chucking free tat out to the cycle fans is the advance party of the greatest cycle race on earth, setting off a good two hours ahead of the riders. It’s a curiously incongruous mix, the fume belching slow crawl of the motor cars in the caravan and the campaigns populating the people’s village to cut car use and get more people riding.

It was one pm, I’d been in London since about ten in the morning and used my early arrival to walk the whole course, the T-mobile team had been warming up from about eleven, as had a few other sporadic riders and the weather was looking good, it promised to be a good day’s sport. Already people were staking out their spaces by the barriers, setting up picnics, stepladders and shouting “Allez Allez!” as the horse guards came down the course to Buckingham Palace for the eleven o’clock changing of the guard. With no traffic anywhere near the course it was possible to hear the distictive rumble of a time trial bike’s areodynamic rear wheel long before the rider arrived. There were police everywhere, many of them on mountainbikes exchanging banter with the ambulance cycle response units, drinking tea outside the emergency command centres and giving directions to the many visitors from the continent.

The People’s Village in Hyde Park was very busy, part anglo-french market, part celebration of the bicycle and cycling. The highlights for me were the roller-racing at the LCC stall which I sat and watched for a while, and a chap going past on a Penny Farthing.

chap on a penny farthing

By 12:30 I had scoffed my picnic and set up by the barrier on the bridge over the Serpentine. There was a mild wiggly bit of road, a speed bump and to my left a sharp bend. This gave me a really good view of the action. My old chums Greg and Jo were in town for the tour so a few texts later we joined forces to take in the start of the time-trialling. Watching the people was almost as much fun as watching the bikes. Here a Basque family unfurling their flag and waving their cycle caps at every rider, there an overweight chap in ill-advised cycle shorts wheeling two grand’s worth of bike through the crowd, wincing with every bump and scrape as he tried to ease it past the spectators. With blood sugars plummeting we were only kept going by the sheer speed of the riders, their exersions psychologically transferring to us the strength to walk accross the park in the heat to Bar Ricard and some bierres, saucicons et biscuits. Here is Greg and myself watching the action on the big screen, I am wearing the original shirt of the Highway Cycling Group, also the offical badge.

me and Greg

We decided to make a move when the Miami Dolphin Cheerleaders inexplicably turned up a few yards behind us to promote American Football (it made no sense to me either). After talking to the St John’s Ambulance cycle response team and getting a fascinating guided tour of their equipment we took a good look around the cycle stands, sampling the village and picking up London cycle maps for Greg and Jo. Then we made our way slowly but surely down the mall towards the finish, in time to see David Millar and Bradley Wiggens make their runs. The atmosphere was incredible, as the British riders came down the course the cheering arrived before even the Gendarme on the motorbike who rides in front of each time-triallist. It would have been nice to see a British winner but Fabian Cancellara produced an incredible scorching run, his every line was tight and he spared no horsepower throughout the course. On the Mall the speeds were just unbelievable, with my titchy little digital camera it was near impossible to get a shot of the riders. Here’s one I managed to take, an indication of the speed is the fact that the guy with the camera has just taken a photo of the rider and hasn’t even got his finger off the shutter.

very fast rider

It was a spectacular event and it felt amazing to be a part of it. The crowds were fantastic, clapping all the riders and cheering everyone on, it was terrifically good-natured and I really hope we showed the UK is a good host to the Tour de France. It would be great if there was a gap of less than thirteen years before it visits these shores again.

More of my not very good photos can be found on my Flickr page here.

Published in: on July 8, 2007 at 10:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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