Anticipation began to build when it was announced that Stage 3 of the 2016 Tour of Britain would be passing within half a mile of my front door. Taking in the picturesque Cheshire lanes to the south of Manchester and the best of the climbs on the western fringe of the Peak District; following the race by bike seemed a fair enough reason to take a day off work.
Forgoing punctures and other mechanical mishaps, if you’re a cyclist then a good day’s riding might involve a) enjoying a particularly good cup of coffee b) smashing a PB or c) riding with a group of friends. If you can ‘tick all of the above’ together with some late summer sunshine and a chance to see professionals riding roads you actually know; then a grand day out is certainly in the offing.
After coffee (that’s my first ?), I rode out with Manchester’s chapter of the Rapha Cycling Club with the intention of watching the race tackle Brickworks. At just under 3km in length, the climb out of Pott Shrigley is often included on club rides and, depending on a particular individual’s love of climbing, can be said to be held in some affection. Which is interesting as, with an average gradient of 6% and ramps of 14%, it says a lot about the Rapha Cycling Club and their motto of ‘Glory Through Suffering’.
Approaching Brickworks, we joined a steady stream of cyclists all converging on the climb to watch the professionals make it look easy. Leaving our bikes on the side of the road we staked out a decent view but not before riding to the KOM summit line in front of the gathering crowds; in itself posing questions of cycling etiquette. When watched by other enthusiasts, it wouldn’t do to soft pedal or show any signs of effort as the slope steepens. Having an audience as you climb adds a certain impetus and hopefully another ? for a PB.
Observing the English watching a cycling event is always interesting. Aside from the ubiquitous mobile phone clasped in hand and the occasional cow-bell, the reaction to the passing riders is often enthusiastically polite but without the accompanying histrionics favoured by our Continental neighbours. An instinctive round of applause and an occasional shout of encouragement appeared the order of the day.
As soon as the main field had passed – some riders looking distinctly uncomfortable with the pace up the climb – we’d planned to keep ahead of the race by riding directly over to the finish in Tatton Park with the aim of beating the road closures.
And this, for me, was the highlight of the day and my final ?. Two up, in matching club jerseys and our heads full of the racing we’d just seen, we thundered through the country lanes and small villages. And judging by the cheers and clapping of the crowds waiting on the roadside, I’d like to think that our neat little formation at least caused a few to mistake us for the main event. Wheels a few centimetres apart, each trusting the other to hold the line, burying ourselves and leaving everything on the road.
Later as I reflected on my day I noted that, rather reassuringly, even professional cyclists find hills hard. That the English countryside is beautiful with rich and varied landscapes. And, when viewing the hundreds of bikes scattered on the grass in Tatton Park and propped up on the Brickwork’s roadside, we are slowly but steadily becoming a nation of cyclists.
And, yes, the sun did shine all day.
Images by @openautograph