Monday, July 07, 2014

Le Tour de Wharf

I work in Canary Wharf, London. A glass and steel faceless veneer on top of what were once the world's busiest docks. As with anywhere, there are good things and bad things about the place. For me the latter outweigh the former. I am not a fan. As ever though, it is worth looking to the positive and today Canary Wharf was a great place to work, for the Tour de France whizzed right by as part of its all too brief stint through the UK.

I am an unabashed amateur cyclist. From being clueless of all things on two wheels only a few years ago, I am now ever so slightly less so. My struggles on a few gentle cycle tours here and there have given me colossal respect for what the pro-cyclists do. They cycle mental distances, for mental amounts of time at mental speeds. And, to continue that theme, it does not get more mental than the Tour de France. The ultimate of cycle races and biggest annual sporting event in the world.


After a lunchtime recce, we managed to find a pretty decent spot on Aspen Way at the north end of the Wharf. The Tour was due to race along this polluted bit of road before plummeting down into the Limehouse Link and on to the Mall.

We turned up 40 minutes before the riders were due to pass and the roads were already lined a few people deep. There was an excited buzz. It was very odd to see all these bankers clinging to the barriers on a grubby east London road, mixed in with kids, pensioners and the odd tourist.

Having moved three times in search of an ever so slightly better vantage point, we eventually stuck to one place and patiently awaited the 196 riders. Slowly but surely we edged our way to the front, significantly helped by a mass exodus of onlookers to the other side of the road when the stewards were looking the other way. As more crowds poured in, it became increasingly clear that the stewards were only there for show. No one was going to listen to them.

The first radio cars and police motorbikes of the cavalcade that leads in the race proper zoomed by, increasing the expectation. Life's little laughs brought an isolated heavy shower right onto our heads for a dozen or so minutes, catching most unprepared. The Canadian tourist next to me looked rather smug in her full cagoule.

The frequency of the cars increased and a loud speaker attached to a voiture official announced "five minutes, cinq munutes". You could feel the shared anticipation. This was the cue for my part of the crowd to lurch forward from the outer safety barrier to line the inner edge of the road, cutting off the view of many to the side to loud boos. Herd instinct took over and I made sure I was at the front of the cue.

More and more cars zipped past and then, before I had time to take it in, the leader approached and pelted past. Acclimatising to the situation, I was on full alert when Chris Froome powered round the slight bend, dragging the 190 plus man peloton in toe. A tight "V" behind him suddenly became a wide block of man and metal. Before I knew it, the edge of the peloton whooshed past me within 30 cm. I was literally knocked back by the gust of air spat off this lycra clad wall. It was like standing by the side of the road as a lorry speeds past too close for comfort. It was exhilarating. I muttered an impromptu expletive.

And then it was over. At 50 kilometres an hour they do not stop to say hello. The peloton was followed by a jam of horn honking, bike laden touring cars and a couple of stragglers. Soon they were past and it was really over.

Rather wet and very satisfied I headed back to work.
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