Tour de Yorkshire, day three

Tour de Yorkshire stage three (ASO/Gautier Demouveaux)
Tour de Yorkshire stage three (ASO/Gautier Demouveaux)

Another five or so hours of precious sleep and I woke up to pouring rain. My phone told me it would be like this all day. Stupid phone.

The start, in Wakefield, was an hour later than the two previous days, which was useful. And the rain mostly stopped as we drove there, also useful. It was the most organised we had been all weekend, plenty of time to get a coffee, walk around the buses, see the sign-on and the start before shooting off.

The morning

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Of course getting away from the town was a living hell. Every road heading out to where we wanted to go was closed, even though the race was taking a different route. For ten minutes we negotiated with a group of marshals, who had cordoned off a 50m piece of road for whatever reason.

Eventually they relented, and we realised that the situation could’ve been solved by just asking straight up for the cones to be moved. Anyway, off we sped, re-joining the route before the first climb of the day at Holmfirth.

There were more marshals there, mostly helpful, some not so much. Raoul got an ice cream, on scoop, vanilla. It wasn’t very good apparently. Some lady shouted “idiots” as we drove off after failing to park on the Côte de Holmfirth. Off to the Côte de Scapegoat Hill then.

At the top there were lots of dogs (see below), and the climb was packed. That’s about all I remember about Scapegoat Hill. It was cloudy too, and a couple of Europcar soigneurs waited at the top. They didn’t manage to hand over any bottles.

Dogs of the Tour de Yorkshire

Escaping from Scapegoat – Raoul directed traffic, Daniel banged the car door, I tried to charge my phone – this thing isn’t great in a moving vehicle. The radio played this awful song. Everyone hated the radio.

The ride to the Côte de Goose Eye was another fast one, on the single-lane roads and through the small villages that we had become used to seeing. “This is some James Bond shit!” exclaimed Daniel as we crested a hill, airborne again. It’s probably as close to a WRC ride-along as you could find, with Raoul dictating directions like a co-driver, a Timo Rautiainen to Daniel’s Marcus Grönholm.

Question of the day, from Daniel

“Where are Wallace and Gromit from? Here?”
I was unsure myself, but apparently they live in Wigan (in Lancashire), some sixty miles from Wakefield.

Once again we made a mess of getting to the climb. The shortcut to the route saw a marshal open the road in the wrong direction. Thankfully a police outrider arrived soon after, pointing out the mistake. Spectators watched on as we executed another three-point turn on a tiny village street.

A couple of unclassified climbs later (“If this isn’t a côte then maybe it’s a vest”) and we arrived at Goose Eye.

It was steep at the bottom and the village was full of people. A million people came out to see the race apparently, so that’s cool. The top of the climb was less steep and there were far fewer people. We parked midway up the 2.2km climb – another awkward reversing manoeuvre into a crowd of people unwilling to budge. I walked up, Daniel headed back down.

ON GOOSE EYE

The sun came out, and it was properly warm for the first time all weekend. This random hill in the middle of nowhere also let my phone pick up 3G for the first time, which was nice.

Turns out Nicolas Edet and Lawson Craddock were the Cofidis and Giant-Alpecin men leading the remnants of the breakaway, while the Sky-led peloton was in pieces behind.

I faced a kilometre run downhill to the car but thankfully our way out was to follow the race rather than push through the crowds in the other direction. Running down the grass verge, just about avoiding the cars passing in the other direction, I spotted our grey Corsa and jumped in. Destination, Leeds.

Parking Spots of the Tour de yorkshire

As the race continued north and then east to Leeds, we headed to Bradford ring road and the interminable red traffic lights on the way to the finish. Again, with no real idea of when the riders would actually get to the finish (somewhere between 16:30 and 17:00 according to the roadbook), it looked a real possibility that we’d miss out.

Luckily for us, suburban Bradford seemed to melt into suburban Leeds. We seemed to have made it without really knowing how close we were at any point. Despite our worry, we got onto the course with five kilometres to go, with the convoy nowhere in sight.

After parking there was another marshal confrontation as we were shouted at to get off the road to the car park as if we had no idea the race was coming.

AT THE FINISH

A rush to the finish in Roundhay Park and BMC’s Ben Hermans was the solo winner. There was disappointment for those who had hoped for more GC action on the toughest stage of the race, with the main favourites rolling in together.

After the finish, riders milled about, providing more photo opportunities. And then that was it. The end of the first Tour de Yorkshire. It was pretty fun.

Leeds postcard (leodis.net)
Leeds postcard (leodis.net)

 

Tour de Yorkshire, day two

Tour de Yorkshire, stage two (ASO / GAUTIER DEMOUVEAUX)
Tour de Yorkshire, stage two (ASO / GAUTIER DEMOUVEAUX)

“We’re winning the race. Nobody’s catching this breakaway.” We had missed the press diversion and were now on our second lap of the closing circuit. Daniel was anxious and we had yet to realise that the riders were to complete three laps, not two.

It wasn’t the first mistake of the day. We missed the start altogether after the closed roads somehow caught us by surprise. Well, we didn’t miss it – we got to the press car park, but didn’t come close to where the action was.

Before that I got a jacket. I forgot to take a photo. Here it is. It’s startlingly adequate.

So yeah, we left Selby early, getting on the route way ahead of the race. Stop for coffee, stop for fish and chips, go to the Côte de North Newbald… Hey, where did the race signs stop? Where are all the fans? I guess we drove past the climb? Yep.

Waiting for the race
Waiting for the race

We got there in the end but needed to park. People everywhere, obviously, and nowhere to stop. So we should head back down the climb to that spot Raoul suggested then? Yeah let’s try that.

As with any race, the convoy – support vehicles, police and so on – is long. The police outriders come through some twenty minutes before the riders, to close side roads and keep regular traffic at bay. They arrived just as we started to head back down – cue reverse gear, high speed, back to where we just were. A parking spot will have to be improvised.

People are oblivious to the car. It’s a ton of metal on wheels manoeuvring onto a grass verge inches away from them and still they refuse to budge. This was a recurring theme.

Puccio!
Hey Puccio

Raoul stays in the car as the race passes, Daniel runs further up the hill, shooting the riders, the fans, god knows. I lie in the grass, taking totally pro low-angle shots with my phone. As ever, once the voiture balai (broom wagon) has passed there’s the mad rush to the car, beat the crowds away from the hill, beat the race to the Côte de Fimber, the only other climb of the day.

More thin ribbons of road, hills, troughs, pheasants to dodge, cars to pass. The car was definitely airborne at one point. We get back on the route at Wetwang, arriving at the hill with plenty of time to walk up. The climbs are more straightforward than yesterday’s – lesser gradients, wider roads, not massively interesting.

This guy
This guy
This guy too
This guy too

With a six minute advantage, the break had doubled their lead since North Newbald. Of course we had no idea who was in it, our three phones combined couldn’t muster a wi-fi connection between them, and we had no race radio.

The drive to the finish was less pressing, a straight road to York, meaning we’d be waiting for the race at the finish with enough time to see them pass three times. We should have realised that the press diversion would be at the press centre in York Racecourse (a kilometre out), but we drove past, not realising our mistake until after we had the finish line.

So we did another lap, another tour of York. There was much discussion in the car, arguments even, as we sped through the biggest crowds of the race. Daniel jumped out with two kilometres to go. We’d meet again at the finish, if he could fight through the masses.

Some things that happened at the finish
Some things that happened at the finish

He made it, just. He saw the riders twice, but I missed them pass on the penultimate lap – a coffee run in the press room. At the finish there were no interview either – the team hotels were close, so there were no buses to hang around.

Instead we watched the podium, a chance to drink in the ceremony, or rather just leave early because it’s not that interesting. David Millar hung out of the commentary box for a chat about his dinner with Daniel and his upcoming clothing line. Then we hitched a ride to the press room in the broom wagon.

Later we took some time to do some non-race stuff – eating Italian food (spaghetti vongole for me), looking at York cathedral, general mirth, before an evening photoshoot with MTN-Qhubeka back at the hotel. Oh, and I showed Daniel my Milwaukee Bucks t-shirt. He knows they’re real now.

York Postcard (bbc.co.uk)
York was actually a bit like this. Less flowers though (bbc.co.uk)

Tour de Yorkshire, day one

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”

Tour de Yorkshire stage one (ASO / Gautier Demouveaux)
Tour de Yorkshire stage one (ASO / Gautier Demouveaux)

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.

Country roads, sans spectators
Country road, sans spectators

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.

Daniel & Raoul's portraits on http://manualforspeed.com/ I can attest to their accuracy
Daniel & Raoul’s portraits on manualforspeed.com. I can attest to their accuracy

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.

Lots of fluo / Lots of pain
Lots of fluo / Lots of pain

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.

north york moors
The North York Moors (solitary ice cream truck parked miles from anywhere not pictured)

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.

Yeah I saw all the Europcars
Yeah I saw all the Europcars

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.

Scarborough postcard (atticpostcards.com)
Scarborough was exactly like this (atticpostcards.com)