A Grand Tour

Since last we spoke, my fair city was besieged by a bizarre two-wheeled circus.

The Tour De France comes to Sheffield
The Tour De France comes to Sheffield

Yes, the Tour De France had its Grand Depart from Leeds on Saturday, sped towards Harrogate and then sailed forth from dear old York before fetching up in that most hearty and joyful of cities, Sheffield, on Sunday afternoon.

Never ones to miss the up-close thrill of city cycle racing in our proverbial backyard, crafty cycling nerd Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and your humble scribe set out on Sunday 6 July, picnic in tow,  to behold the greatest cycle race on earth.

Rather than risk a journey out to the World’s Most Terrifying Cycle Climb on Jenkin Road (cheers, hypebolic ITV 4 folks), Mrs Rolling Eyeballs decided that we would be best situated by going to the Fan Park at Don Valley Bowl and watching the start of the race on the big screen.

The City’s transport high-ups had gone all in, ferrying fans, families and the vaguely interested to points along the route, with a plethora of extra trams laid on.  I’ve never seen trams as busy as they were on Sunday – even at 10:00am, it was standing room only, with giddy Heeley, Gleadless and Manor folk piling in together and heading for the big race.

Alighting at the Bowl, Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and I found a comfy deckchair in the middle of the bowl and took in the scene around us:

When do the crowds get here?
When do the crowds get here?

At the risk of stating the obvious – that isn’t me and Mrs Rolling Eyeballs – but those were lovely, comfy deckchairs and no mistake.

Later on, as the Tour hurtled across South Yorkshire towards us, things got a bit busier:

People!  Where did they come from?
People! Where did they come from?

Going to the Fan Zone was like going to a really big park on a warm summer day and finding it full of your neighbours, who all want to watch the world’s greatest two-wheeled tyros (minus an incapacitated Mark Cavendish) duke it out with the biggest hills and dales that Yorkshire had to offer.   As once-in-a-lifetime events go, it was without peer.

Watching the action on a screen wasn’t going to be enough for Mrs Rolling Eyeballs – she had plotted a suitable place on route for us to behold the Tour up close and personal-like.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ever-so-slightly dizzying sight of Chris Froome belting past you at 50 KPH:

Yep, that blurry blue-and-black figure is possibly Chris Froome...
Yep, that blurry blue-and-black figure is possibly Chris Froome…

Should you find yourself given the opportunity to take in the greatest bike spectacle of all, I highly recommend doing so.  A Tour stage doesn’t just go through your city – it takes over, galvanizes the populace into engaging with it and leaves you breathless and slightly stunned in its wake.

I've just finished a race and you want me to ride a bike again?
I’ve just finished a race and you want me to ride a bike again?

There’s the circus of promotional vehicles, tour cars, Gendarmerie on fast motorbikes and miniature village support vehicles parked up by the finish line.  The breathless commentaries on local radio stations as the racers fly ever nearer and speed through neighbourhoods which become somehow more exotic as they are juxtaposed with the glamour of the grand race.

I loved it for what it was – a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.