I went to the first edition of the Tour de Yorkshire with Manual For Speed. Stuff happened.
“What really went on there? We only have this excerpt”
Hey, I lost my jacket. It’s April in the north of England and I lost my jacket. It’s April in the north of England and I lost my jacket and I’m at a bike race. Bike races are outside. This is going to be… not good.
Friday morning was ok though. Of course I ate a Full English Breakfast at 8am. That’s the only option at the bed and breakfast. That and coffee, the first of many.
It’s the first edition of the race, the ASO’s Tour de France legacy. I’m hanging out with Manual For Speed. One of them anyway, this guy who wears a shemagh scarf and a Baltimore Orioles cap – “repping my home city.”
His name is Daniel too, and we ‘met’ via email. IRL we meet on Thursday at the seemingly still-under-construction York Racecourse – the press centre. It’s cold, and Bernard Hinault walks past. I stare at him. Later on, I forget to buy a jacket.
Back to Friday, post-breakfast, and an hour’s drive to the coast with this near-complete stranger. We pass Stamford Bridge, a place called Wetwang, while some American woman tells us about roundabouts and left-turns via app.
I got five hours sleep after watching the Milwaukee Bucks crash out the NBA Playoffs with a 54-point loss to the Chicago Bulls. “Milwaukee have a team?” Daniel asks, laughing.
Bridlington is easy, we roll up around half an hour before the start and park the rented Vauxhall Corsa in the place where the press park. It’s eleven in the morning, and cold. There are kids everywhere, a lifeboat on the street, seagulls. Yeah, it’s the coast.
A delusion I know, but there’s always some excitement to wave our passes around and walk where the public can’t. The riders rolling through to sign on, public getting in the way, Merhawi Kudus arriving from Amsterdam twenty minutes before the race is due to start. Standard stuff.
Visa Problems held up the MTN-Qhubeka man, while a delayed flight made things worse. Bad luck for him but better for MFS’s Raoul. He spotted a guy in Castelli-branded uniform at Schipol airport – a soigneur or mechanic or something? No, it was our man Kudus. Cue a long-lasting friendship, despite the minor complication of having no shared language. Cue also, a lift to the race for Raoul.
Once I learned that interviewing Kudus would be something of a challenge, I set off for Europcar’s bus and Namibian champion Dan Craven.
So… are these guys mechanics? Soigneurs? Where is Europcar’s press officer? Who is Europcar’s press officer? It doesn’t matter – I have a plan. I’ll just combine the words ‘press’, ‘Dan Craven’ and ‘interview’ until something happens.
The beard descends from the bus to save me (Can that be his nickname? Maybe it already is.) A quick chat while his embrocation is applied, and the interview is set up – tomorrow evening at the Mercor/Mercury/Mircure (hmm) Hotel.
Back to the car, it’s time to get ahead of the race. The peloton departs, and riders presumably squabble over the breakaway, but we don’t see any of it. Thanks to the incompatibility of the British countryside and wireless internet, it’ll be another hour before we have any idea about what’s actually happening in the race we’re covering.
Did I mention the crowds? They’re big, perhaps unsurprising given the turnout at the Tour de France last summer. Still, everybody waves. Everybody waves at the police too. It’s kinda weird.
The first coffee stop comes after nine kilometres, at the Richard Burton Art Gallery (not that Richard Burton.) We’re going too fast to really think about drinking it though, trading places with the police outriders as the opening climb of the Côte de Dalby Forest looms.
After a few false alarms, a handful of steep hills that don’t show up on the profile, we’re there. Daniel does his thing, photos of the people, a guy stood in a tree and so forth. I talk to Raoul about Diesel jeans and the bomb at the Rund um den Finanzplatz Eschborn-Frankfurt.
Then come the riders. The breakaway. NFTO’s Eddie Dunbar is there – on the attack again in the first race after my interview with him. Two minutes later, maybe five minutes later (who knows when you forget to pay attention?) and the peloton arrives. Marcel Kittel, out with a virus for three months, is already dropping back.
Dodging the team cars and fluorescent-clad fans, there was another uphill sprint to the car. The Côte de Grosmont – four-hundred metres at seventeen percent – is next on the menu, but not before a trip across the North York Moors. We knew they were there, but we didn’t expect them to look like this, so we stopped to take photos. And pee on them.
A Daniel Pasley clutch-punishing parking manoeuvreTM puts us in place for the hill, where we soon find another coffee source – a mobile joint near the top. Thankfully, the speed of our arrival allowed us ample time to stand on the hill. In the cold.
NFTO boss John Wood tells us more about the breakaway. Only there was no breakaway group left on the climb – there was a crash apparently? And they were caught at some point. Dunbar went to hospital in any case. Breton Perrig Quemeneur leads the way up the hill.
Another lung-busting sprint to the car and now it’s the tough part. Can we beat the peloton to Scarborough? Beating car-sickness is a cause closer to my heart – the food, the coffee, the map reading and the roller-coaster driving look to be conspiring against me.
As for reaching the finish first? That was close too – there was much discussion about taking this ambitious route beforehand. Thankfully, the lack of countryside speed cameras only help our cause.
In any case, we made it – but the riders were still some twenty kilometres out as we parked. I was fine too.
Before the finish, the press room beckons – it’d probably help to actually find out what happened today. Oh look, there’s a new breakaway group. Oh look, there are fifty bottles of free beer on the table. I guess I’ll have to come back later.
There’s more running before that though, this time to the finish on the seafront. Nordhaug wins! Kudus is thirteenth! Dunbar is… Where’s Dunbar? Oh.
Finishes are always half-fun, half-stress, but if you have no specific plan of action (today I don’t) then they’re fine. Time to chat to a few people before grabbing a few beers and then heading back to York, soundtracked by some terrible radio (the highlight being a phone-in competition that sees everybody fail to recognise Foo Fighters lyrics). I hope Gap is still open.