diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Seven years ago Le Tour De France prologue came to London. Yesterday the cyclists came back and staged it properly.

What follows was my TdF... it won't have been yours (and it most definitely won't have been yours or yours)

My Tour de France gallery
There are 30 photos altogether [slideshow]

12.15 Bow Roundabout
There is already mild travel chaos because the whole of Stratford High Street has been sealed off to traffic. A gang of hi-vis operatives are letting the occasional local vehicle through, to the annoyance of others, while buses are directed over the flyover to a makeshift turnaround area. Pity the inspector with the job of telling passengers there are no buses east for six hours, but he's grinning his way through the complaints.

12.30 Stratford High Street
The barriers (and advertising banners) have gone up at the junction with Warton Roadready to divert the approaching riders towards the centre of Stratford. They'll be riding the main road parallel to the segregated blue strip, not along it, which is a shame because I'd like to have seen the peloton tackling the Cycle Superhighway Bus Stop Bypass Chicane. The events marshal alongside tells me that one of her relatives is cycling today, so I wish him luck, and she continues watching not many people, gathering slightly too early.

1.00 Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
Crowds have already taken up position on the bend in the road by the Copper Box, the most fortunate few on the embankment beneath the mirrored letters. In the North Park the Tour de France Spectator Hub is in full swing. It's not what I expected, just a big screen, a TfL truck and a slightly upmarket burger van. But hundreds are sprawled on the grass already, watching the action live from Saffron Walden, and all about to get wet in the first of the day's unscheduled showers.

1.15 Westfield Stratford
It's becoming apparent that, here on Westfield Avenue, spectating Le Tour is very much a one-sided beast. Stewards and metal barriers stand firm to prevent passage from one side to the other, except at designated crossing points and times. Most of those who've poured out of the station, or the shops, wait meekly on one side of the road, while the viewing space along the other is mostly empty. There'll be some stuff to watch along shortly.

1.30 Montfichet Road
The Caravane is here! Police bikes and gendarmes lead the charge, followed by a motley assortment of vans and trucks and fibreglass rabbits advertising things that French consumers buy. We shouldn't really be interested, but it's surreal watching a four pack of fruit juice hurtling towards you at 50 kilometres per hour, and anyway, there are freebies! What's more, there are only a dozen or so of us down the road so we each have a good chance of grabbing whatever the grinning stooges chuck. I pick up what turns out to be a pop-up-frisbee, and a cheap keyring advertising a cross channel ferry. The bloke beside me gets the squeezy plastic cow, but I get the sachet of zero sucre sans colorant Parfum Grenadine, which later leaks out into my trouser pocket and leaves an embarrassing red stain. Not every vehicle is French. A Yorkshire dale rushes by, the two gentlemen on board firmly intent on not throwing any teabags my way, but I have more luck with the giant-bag-of-oven-chips-on-wheels. It's only a small book of matches, but hey, I'm a winner.

1.45 Montfichet Road
"I'm sorry Sir, but you'll have to move on." A young lad who can't be long out of school, but who's wearing the official hi-vis of power, comes over with the bad news. Apparently we're not allowed to stand here any more because there aren't barriers, although it's OK if we keep moving, or if we decamp to the busy section at the top of the slope. The gentleman beside me takes issue - he's a recently retired police officer from Yorkshire, and this is the third consecutive day he's been following Le Tour. He attempts to argue with the boy, wondering what possible jurisdiction he might have, then firmly stands his ground. I don't experience this jobsworth attitude anywhere else during the day except at Westfield, and I wonder if it's something to do with this being private public realm.

2.00 Stratford Broadway
Back on Cycle Superhighway 2, the Caravane has passed. The top freebie accessory is the Carrefour cap, worn by the discerning to ward off an impending shower. Every school in Newham is closed for the day, so there are a fair few children out along the course, and as well as a number of gentlemen in suits taking time off from their usual office job hereabouts. The corner of West Ham Lane is being described as a hairpin bend, which seems to be overselling the angle somewhat, but the pub inside the V is doing a roaring trade. The rain comes down heavier, and heavier, testing the resilience of anyone who's not managed to find shelter in a shop or doorway.

2.30 West Silvertown
There is an unexpectedly good view of the route from the stairwell at West Silvertown station. I count as many as 50 stewards and police in hi-vis of various colours strung out along Silvertown Way. So many people appear to have been given official jobs for the day that I expect to see London's unemployment figures take a temporary dip. A businessman with a suitcase appears at my side and asks when the peloton is expected. He has a flight at four and was hoping to catch the cyclists as they speed by, but I have to disappoint him, they're running late and have yet to reach Epping. He'll be in the air before they reach The Mall.

3.00 Silvertown Way
Most of the route is lined by spectators, even out here in the outer reaches of the Royal Docks. Elevated highways give a great view of the cycle track, so long as you have the patience to wait. Some have brought tablets to follow the race from afar, yelling out as each new village is reached, others have settled down with a picnic. Those with cameras keep them poised, snapping every approaching Skoda support vehicle in case it turns out to be the herald of something important.

3.30 Lower Lea Crossing
All the workmen at City Island, and at Crossrail's Leamouth site, have been allowed time offsite to watch Le Tour pass. They mass on the central reservation, or else take a grandstand seat atop the nearest crane. A trio of helicopters appear somewhere in the distance over Stratford, indicating that some action might maybe be getting sort-of closer. Meanwhile an angry raincloud grows darker over Docklands, and it's a race to see which gets here first.

3.45 Plaistow
I still can't believe that the Tour de France came to Plaistow. Sorry Plaistow, but I failed to visit you during your brief moment of glory.

3.55 Lower Lea Crossing
The rain is driving down in sheets, and I am extremely wet. Typical, it's been mostly sunny all afternoon but now, as the stream of gendarmes and motorbikes swiftly intensifies, conditions are unseasonably hostile. I spot two actual cyclists in amongst the flow of vehicles... they must be in the lead... oh they've gone. But then comes the peloton of legend, an unexpectedly long chain of cyclists hurtling up the dual carriageway and across the Lea, and passing in a blur. There's no time to recognise who's who and which jersey is which as the procession hurtles by, with a hundred thighs splashing up a volley of spray. They're all gone in fifteen seconds, followed by an infeasibly large number of support vehicles with spare bikes on the roof, but that brief moment is what we'd all waited to see. The world's largest annual sporting event just touched the heart of Newham, and its passing will long be remembered.

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