Monday, 9 July 2007

Le Grand Départ

Yesterday we fulfilled our duties as volunteer marshals on stage one of the Tour de France. Luckily, after weeks of rain, the sun decided to shine all day and although at 5.30 a.m. when we arrived at our meeting point, it was pretty chilly by the time the peleton passed through it had warmed up nicely. We managed to get a good spot near the start of the race on Westminster Bridge. From where I was standing I could see Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament directly in front of me and it wasn’t long before the tourists, visitors and photographers realised that this was a prime location. That said everything was very orderly and people were very well behaved. Our job was to make up the numbers (we had to wear bright day-glo orange tabards) and the only thing we really got involved in was asking people not to sit, step, and put their feet or any other part of their body into the road. (The reason being that with close to 200 riders and narrow roads they use up every bit of space going including the gutter and can easily hit anything that protrudes into their path; as happened later on in the race when a pedestrian got in the way of a British rider, knocked him off and ruined any chance he had of getting back into the sprint finish). We weren’t really needed as such but I suppose might have been if anything untoward had happened. At about 7.30 a.m. we could hear police sirens and looked up to see a convoy of British motorcycle police coming over the bridge, providing a formal ceremonial escort to their equivalent in the French Gendarme who had come over with ‘le tour’. The publicity caravan passed through rather noisily at 8.30 but at that point there weren’t many people around to see it; mostly people returning from their night out! After that various team cars and vehicles came through; almost all the passengers turned to look at Big Ben and took a photo and some drivers and motor bike riders stopped, got out of their cars and took pictures of themselves with Big Ben in the background (to cheers and applause from the gathering crowd). In the crowd we discussed the fact that the ‘carbon footprint’ of ‘le tour’ with all its associated support vehicles, publicity, team cars, buses, vans etc (the size of small town that gets up and moves everyday) was considerable! Finally, after much excitement and build up the riders came through. They weren’t actually racing at this point but gently riding (at 25miles and hour) around the sights of London. I think if the riders could have got off their bikes and taken a photo they would of and I caught this picture of two from the Cofidis team glancing over their shoulders to get a glimpse of the view. Our job was done by 11.00 and we headed off to watch the rest of the race in the sun, on the big screen in St James’s Park. Later that day Ian and I followed the route the riders took out of London, through Deptford, Woolwich, Erith and Dartford and they certainly got to see some of the very best and very worst sights although at that point I expect they were going so fast they didn't notice!

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