The towns were flooded with people. To the extent you wondered quite where they could have all come from.
I think it is pretty rare that a town stands still, every person focusing on one thing. Bike racing is special. In this car and road reliant world, we force that brief moment of nothing upon people. Not everyone likes it, but equally those who may not have taken the time from their day to watch, are near trapped in to doing so. And romantically, maybe naively, I'd like to think some of them might be surprised, might really love what comes when we get there.
I guess in that sense we come to the people.
I’d never felt scared until the race that day. There is one town that echoes in the memory. I was on the far left of the bunch, mid stage, as we came in. It was a slight but fast downhill, in Devon perhaps. I almost feel I need not mention the town was rammed. I’m wondering where all these people come from. But they have come and all these people start to lean in and cheer and clap. Its amazing their support. But I’m also a matter of inches from their hands, bodies, heads. I’m going at near thirty miles an hour. A woman is holding a very small child. I’m passing it so close I could bend my elbow and touch it. I’m scared.
We exit the buildings and return to a country road. The big and quintessentially British hedge row has never looked so soft, so safe. If there were to be a crash now, there would be no young children in sight, just branches and leaves. I relax a little. But in they back of my mind, it felt too close.
Another day. Another town. Thankfully barriers between us and them, the people. Or really the person; a collective voice that blares and spurs. It surfs with the bunch, breaking just before we enter, erupting and then slowly falling to a rest again. I’m wondering were it, they, have all come from.
We turn a left, uphill, not too fast. I faintly remember a pub on the corner. It’s only twenty or so kilometres to go, the race has been on and continues to be very much so. Cummings is riding the front just a little up ahead, chasing. It's doesn't hurt but it's unmistakably hard. There aren't all that many guys left, the wind over the cliffs, the climb just before, took their toll on the peloton. I’m concentrating.
I kick out of the corner. My hands grip the bars tight, my arms and upper body tense. I push forward and out of the saddle I stand on the pedals, following the wheel just ahead. And then I hear it. I hear a voice, standing away from the roar in a place of its own. For a split second it catches my complete attention, instantly sending a smile to my face, a warmth to my legs.
It is there and then just as quickly it is gone.
I remember a roundabout a few seconds later, straight over, a slight downhill and then a right. The motorbike outriders overtook hesitantly as the peloton snaked from left to right in the wind. A wider road with a stone wall rising up on the right.
But mostly, mostly I remember having a quiet chuckle, my old man’s voice ringing in my head, a good feeling in my legs.