When the Tour Came to Town
By Eddie Allen, Web Content Manager, British Cycling
I think it must have been 1989 when I saw road racing for the first time, when the Kelloggs Tour passed through my home town. I was 16 years old and crazy about bikes. I didn't know much about ‘the sport' and I didn't care. I just knew I loved it and lapped up cycling like a thirsty dog.
I'd saved every penny to buy a bike earlier in the summer, and had ridden every hill in the city, explored every trail, worn out a set of tyres and brake blocks, gone on lone, crazy all-day rides with just a t-shirt and jeans, a bottle of water and no change in my pocket.
On TV that July, I'd witnessed the most epic Tour battle in living memory. Come the Champs-Elysee, you needed a feeler-gauge to separate Fignon and Lemond (I was rooting for Fignon - he had the same taste in glasses as me, and there was something about his inscrutable, professorial demeanour - the classicist versus the new-world innovator).
But it was British bike racing coming to town that was the high-water mark of summer 1989. It was my Dad who heard about it on the radio, so we jumped in the car and headed into town. We got there and it was a place transformed - no cars, crash barriers, hoardings, crowds and a blaring PA system. Spectators clung to the barriers like washing hanging out to dry, bashing the hoardings when every police motorbike, or commissaire car flashed by. Then they came...
A blur of red, yellow, blue, white, cerise pink (it was 1989) - the metallic thrashing of a hundred chains on sprockets, the pinging of rims and spokes as narrow tyres connected with the potholed city streets. Riders with white caps and sunburnt faces, forearms and legs flashed by, impossibly quickly, impossibly close to the barriers, impossibly close to each other - a ball of sweat and effort pinging around the tight streets like a bearing in a pinball machine.
They passed a few more times, a few circuits of the city centre the final denouement in the drama of the day's stage. They flashed by one last time and as they passed, I caught the eye of one of the riders - too fast to identify. It was like the eye of a racehorse in full flight - glazed and set with effort. And then they were gone. We drove home. We didn't say much. We didn't need to. My Dad had the look on his face of someone who knew he'd just helped ignite a lifelong passion.
If you've never seen a road race up close and personal before, do it. And don't forget to take your kids.