The day arrived at last! Le Tour de France was going to pass along our very own Yorkshire roads! Roads that I drive along on a regular basis – through the places I live and work – c’etait incroyable!
After many changes of mind, and much consideration of how we could get there, we decided to make our way to Côte d’Oxenhope Moor, a hill climb above the village of Oxenhope and just beyond Haworth, the place made famous by the Brontes.
Our expedition required a frighteningly early alarm call – 4.30am! This was because our daughter was a Tour Maker and we had to drop her off at her gathering point half an hour away and get safely back over the roads before they closed at 6.30am.
We then made the most of our early start by cycling along the unusually empty moorland road until we reached the summit itself. Men were busy building the signage showing the finish for the summit race but there was scarcely anyone else there. Still, it was still only 7am. It was hours before the race would pass by.
We set about selecting our viewing spot from pretty much anywhere we wanted to along the roadside. It was all very relaxed. We chatted to the dozen or so other early risers. One chap had cycled over from Bradford, about 15 miles away. He had been at Leeds the day before for the Grand Depart, and had also managed to catch the race again that day, in Skipton. Not content with that, he was then going down to London for the following day’s racing!
We leant our bike against the fence and put up our tent – we were very well prepared! And then we got serious: time for bacon and mugs of tea using our stove. Perfect! Getting up at a ridiculous hour was starting to have its advantages!
We enjoyed the early sunshine and beautiful views, marvelling at the unexpected possibility of camping out on moors that we usually simply drive through. We also took the opportunity to catch up on a little sleep!
Gradually people started to gather. Nearly everyone seemed to have cycled, and the line of bikes leaning against the fence grew impressively throughout the day. Some people walked up and a few made the short journey up from the temporary campsites that nearby farmers had set up. People picnicked by the roadside and chatted companionably. There was a real feeling of everyone coming for a relaxed summer’s day out.
We wandered up to the summit finish line to photograph ourselves. A friendly policeman took a photo of us together. I tried some road graffiti but it was a total failure; I didn’t have enough chalk and I started writing “Allez!” too far to the right and ran out of road – my exclamation mark ended up on the kerb. Ah well, I tried!
Helicopters, together with motorbikes whizzing past at high speed, marked the arrival of some action. Suddenly everyone was standing up and waving flags. The caravan of advertisers’ vehicles sped past, some of them throwing out freebies (we did very poorly at catching anything!) and there was lots more enthusiastic waving and cheering. We no longer had our excellent view down the hillside – it was full of people standing in the middle of the road!
There was then a lull whilst I caught another quick nap (I had to make the most of our tent!), with the odd sponsor’s car hurtling past, horn tooting.
And then … they were here! One rider was in the lead, flanked by two motorbikes, and soon after him two more cyclists pedalled furiously by in a race for the last of the two points available at the summit. I could even see one of them win. I actually saw a proper bit of racing!
Another small breakaway group followed. Then there was a small gap, followed by a screech of whistles, a flash of a motorbike in front of our faces and then the peloton was upon us, a single unit of furiously cycling legs, spread uncompromisingly across the road from kerb to kerb. I stepped back involuntarily, shocked and awed at the power of the mass of shiny crouching bodies that swept by, right in front of my nose. It took my breath away.
We managed to pull ourselves together sufficiently to watch the riders curl away as the road twisted its way round the edge of the moor. And then they were gone. They were followed by a long succession of team cars all adorned with a full complement of spare bikes. And that really was that! Phew!
We needed another cup of tea, so went to sit by the tent and contemplate the day whilst everyone collected their bikes and slowly made their way home. The countryside was peaceful once more.
The whole weekend was an amazing success! Everywhere there have been fetes and parties, the sun shone, the crowds were brilliant, Yorkshire looked beautiful and our tent made it on to the television! Everyone has been swapping tales of their own day and all the tales are happy. We all have fantastic memories of a wonderful, wonderful weekend!