Cycling in the UK has been transformed over the last couple of decades. In the years before the heresy of photography drew me away, my bike (or more accurately bikes) were my weapon of choice for spending hours engrossed in my own company. Those were the days when the sport was the preserve of geeks who understood the arcane concepts of gear ratios; mostly men who had long ago eschewed fashion in favour of unflattering fabrics in garish designs guaranteed to draw attention to the unworked midriff, rather than the steely thighs. We had our heroes though they were few in number; Tom Simpson, Sean Yates, Phil Liggett, and to the true cognoscenti; Beryl Burton.
That began to change with a young man on a machine out of time. Chris Boardman‘s performances on the Lotus gained the sport a few headlines, but more importantly provided inspiration for a younger generation to come, a generation that can rightly claim (based on Olympic medal hauls) that we are the leading cycling nation on earth. The doubters on the other side of the channel had no choice but to accept this when in France’s capital, having won their race, a quirky Englishman called Wiggins disdainfully exclaimed “We’re just going to draw the raffle now”. Two years on and the Tour begins in Yorkshire; albeit without Wiggins, and sadly after the first stage his former roommate Mark Cavendish, but would the region repay the decision of the race organisers to come further north than they had ever done before? Who would come to cheer the peloton? The geeks? The sports fans? Joe Public?
Yes, yes and yes was the answer, and although the inexperienced viewers created hazards for the riders (taking selfies, risking their dogs and eating lunch in the path of a 30mph phalanx of 200 riders) the overwhelming response of spectators, riders, and administrators was amazement. During its three days on English soil, the living breathing monster with 396 legs (at least at the start) was watched by millions. The came alone, in families, with fellow cyclists, with friends, with eccentric garb, but most of all with enthusiasm.
We waited hours for magic that passed in minutes. But it was worth it. The peloton passed, we smiled at one another then the roads filled up again as the crowds headed home. Or found refreshment.