Who in their right mind would stand on an exposed hill, in biting wind, in thin Lycra, for over three hours. A cycling fan, that’s who. Imagine 90,000 football fans filling Wembley to sit looking at the pitch for three hours only for both teams to simply run from one side to the other then disappear, game over. People would think they were insane. Why? They would ask, but us cycling fans do it. We are happy spend a whole day in the high mountains staring down the valley, waiting for a fleeting moment of action, a chance to interact with our heroes, to share the same space with them for the briefest of moments. And then, once they flash past, like the life of the Mayfly, it’s over. All the planning, the endeavour to climb the hill, the patience of the wait, all for the briefest burst of excitement, it seems insane but we love it. You see the wait only amplifies the intensity of the action, without the wait I don’t think the effect could ever be the same.
So here I find myself on the last day of this year’s Tour de Yorkshire, on Ewden Bank, the place I hope and expect the race to be decided, the last significant obstacle, the last killer climb of the three day tour. I, along with hundreds of others are hoping we will all witness the decisive move that determines the overall winner. We want to see the moment when the screw is turned, the moment the legs buckle, the elastic snaps, the moment the strongest legs ride away to claim glory.
Via intermediate reports we track their position on the road, they’re 40 km away, 30, 20, you can taste the excitement. With the roads now closed to the public they fall quiet, the canvas is ready, anticipation is feverish, then the first sirens echo round the valley. Across the void flashing lights are spotted, this is it, the race is coming. Motorbike after motorbike pass through our human canyon, each one drawing the riders closer as they buzz by, inches from our expectant bodies. Then we hear the helicopter, this is when the pulse realy begins to increase, this is the signal we have waited for, this means they’re almost here. All eyes turn towards the valley, phones and cameras are lifted, we track the plethora of flashing lights cascading into the gully then between the trees the peloton is spotted. Dwarfed by the scenery and with 180km of hard racing in their legs they are approaching our hill, the hill we all hope will decide the race. At first it appears there’s just a select group, but then we spy a single rider off the front, although for now too distant to identify. As he reaches the penultimate bend the waiting crowd erupts, cheers, bells, horns, a cacophony of noise like a wave climbs the slope, almost pushing him upwards. Enveloped by the surrounding convoy of vehicles, the sole combatant is all but upon us. We strain forward, cameras ready, eyes open, primed to soak in the moment we’ve waited all these hours to witness. It’s Serge Pauwels, the Belgian, he’s laid his cards on the table, he’s struck out for glory, can the chasing pack react? They sweep past within touching distance of us, we scream at them, “Chase him!” Do they notice us, or are they oblivious? Are we merely a pulsating blur of noise in their periphery or can they hear our encouragement? Does our explosion of praise and naive instruction register, or do they only have eyes for each other and the road?
And before we know it they disapear over the brow, the main protagonists have passed, but there are plenty more riders to come, those off the pace, those who’s job for the day is done, and those going through utter living hell, and we scream at each and every one of them with the same ferocity as the leaders. And then it’s over and as the last vehicle in the huge convoy squeezes between us we disperse to leave the hill, although not quite as we found it. It’s now daubed with names of our idols, semi permanent markings that will tell all those who pass by that this road is now special, it’s now hallowed turf, this road was used in a bike race.