It was 5.15am (five hours after the penalty shoot out), our directeur sportif lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. The crowds gathered outside the boat, cracking open cans – celebrations had started early, a race space already seemed in the balance. By 6am we were up and by 6.30am equipe Marpessa climbed the hill to the Minster…strangely, the spectator peloton was nowhere to be seen. So, it turned out the can cracking party people outside the boat were still partying from last night.
We almost beat the event team to the Minster, positioning ourselves alongside the other odd early riser, guessing where the barricade might be built, we stood waiting – for quite a while. It was cold, it rained but as other determined front liners joined the line quite a good feeling began to build. Domestiques did their bit, scurrying off to Costa and back, americano after americano hit empty stomachs, the caffeine buzz gradually built to ‘le tour’ euphoria – despite the fact we could have all stayed tucked up in bed for at least another couple of hours.
Eventually the crowd heaved, the music pumped and cyclists started warming up. A ‘do as you please’ kind of set up with locals taking polka dot clad toddlers for hell raising last-minute spins round the course alongside race riders, there was even a disoriented car load of oldies who’d somehow managed to dodge the barricades ending up outside the Minster – apparently a no go to traffic at the best of times. They went on their way to massive cheers.
The caravan arrived, Mifi, Bic, Carefour and the rest – wave after wave of crazily designed freebie launchers. Oh yeah, the Haribo were in the bag. Hours of planning his pano shot, Nick watched the phone die just as the riders appeared. They came thick and fast, cowbells rang alongside Minster bells as the colourful flash sped past. Everyone scanned the cobbles for a second glance, but they were round the corner and gone. People examined caravan freebies and yellow tat they’d been duped into buying by the yellow bag dancing-girls. The crowds fanned out and we walked back through the streets, all kitted out in our yellow dancing girl clobber…