Both the first two stages of Le Grand Départ in Yorkshire passed quite close to Saltaire, so I went with some friends on Sunday to see it. The crowds turning out to watch were unbelievable. We opted to walk quite a distance to a moorland road beyond Haworth and even up here the spectators lined the route shoulder to shoulder. It's one of those things where you have to wait for ages - and I mean ages... hours! And then it all happens in a rush, too fast to take in really.
We arrived early, at about 9.15 am. At first the enjoyment came from watching everybody else arriving and seeing how people were dressed (lots of yellow and polka dot T-shirts, some French berets!), watching people setting up temporary camp and even planting flags in the ground. Then cars and motorbikes started to come through, including police from the local force and beyond, who were all extremely jovial, high-fiving people as they drove past. There were French gendarmes too.
Then at about 11.30 am came the Caravane, a parade of all sorts of vehicles advertising things and throwing out free samples to the crowds. (I did think, it being Yorkshire, they might have added a couple of brass bands - but no.) Then came some of the team support cars. And finally about 1.30 pm - hurrah! - the riders. First came the 'breakaway' of about seven riders (see the photo above) and then after a few minutes, the peloton.
That was actually quite terrifying. There were originally 198 riders (now, sadly, minus Mark Cavendish who was injured yesterday) so that means in the peloton there were about 190 cyclists, all packed together climbing the hill, spread right across the road. They were so close that you almost couldn't see anything except a blur as they sped past. It was very exciting but quite astonishing too. One bad move and the whole lot would have come down like a pack of cards, in a dreadful heap! I should have waited a fraction longer before I took my photo, but I knew I couldn't lean out into the road as they passed so I was being careful. As it was, I had to take a smart leap backwards to get out of their way!
I recorded the TV coverage so I could watch it when I got home - and of course you see a lot, lot more on TV than you do from the roadside - I even saw me! (see below, red top, black trousers!) Actually being there though, the atmosphere was tremendous and I'm so glad I went. I don't suppose I will ever see it again in my home territory.