Le Tour de France has had a mixed reception on its sojourns into the UK over the years: the miserable trips up and down the freshly laid A38 in Plymouth in 1974, two stages taking in Dover, Brighton and Portsmouth in 1994 that saw Chris Boardman in yellow after the opening stage, a grand depart from London to Canterbury in 2007 and now the grandest of grand departs provided by Yorkshire, Leeds, Sheffield and London in 2014.
As a relatively new cycling fan I’d never been roadside at a race preferring the comfort of my own home and the company of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen on ITV4 to traveling to faraway mountains in deepest darkest Europe but with the Tour coming into London on stage 3 from Cambridge I couldn’t miss it.
In the weeks and months building up to the event I planned where I was going to watch the peloton glide by and found a sweeping left-hand bend in Leyton as the riders raced onto Orient Way and South towards the Olympic Park that was easy to get to and also the shortest distance between the route and my flat in Wood Green.
I imagined there’d be plenty of room for spectators and that I could just drop by minutes before the bunch came past and take it all in but after seeing the huge crowds on stages one and two I had to reappraise that fantasy. Instead, I set off just before two o’clock and was in position soon after with a decent view ready for the teams’ estimated arrival time of about half past three.
As I waited I jealously eyed the various roadside cocktails that had been transported in the same team issue bidons the riders use but certainly not containing any energy boosting products and slowly realised standing in cleats for an hour and a half was a big mistake as my calves began to ache and beg for sensible footwear.
The first sign that the race was approaching was when we spotted the helicopter that provides aerial shots of all the action, then came the day’s breakaway made up of two riders: NetApp-Endura's Jan Barta and Jean-Marc Bideau of Bretagne-Seche Environnemen. Shortly after the enormous mass of carbon and Lycra that makes up the pro peloton zoomed into view and flew around the bend and at a speed that just doesn’t come across on TV.
After about ten or fifteen seconds they’d all gone past followed by a few stragglers and then all the team cars. I’d set my camera to sports mode with continuous shooting and just pointed, held the shutter button down and hoped for the best. Fortunately Lady Luck was on my side that day and I managed to get some good photos, all of which you can see in my Le Tour de France 2014 album on Flickr.
Once the action had disappeared up the road headed for a finish line sprint on the Mall I grabbed my bike and dashed back home just in time to catch the finish live on TV.
As an experience it was quite strange: it was all over so quickly, certainly not like going to a football match or the 2012 Paralympics, but it was great to see the professionals in the flesh and literally an arm’s length away and to be able to say I was there is, as they say, priceless.