I really ought to have been ready. After all, I’d been standing by the side of the road for the previous three or so hours. I’d been photographing my friends and their kids, the crowds around me, the caravan as it went past, the tour maker standing next to us…even the police on motorbikes as they whizzed past.
So yes, I should have been ready.
But then the Tour de France isn’t exactly something you can practise taking photos of.
As the first cyclists came into view – heralded by a chorus of shouts, getting ever louder as the lead group got closer – I lifted my camera, pointed and pressed the shutter closed. They were going so fast there was no time to zoom or focus, so I just clicked and hoped for the best.
A few seconds passed before the arrival of the peloton, during which time I raised my camera again and – looking through the viewfinder – focused it on the road. As they came into shot, I clicked, and clicked again – two, maybe three shots.
And then I glanced to my left, away from my camera. Through the viewfinder the swarm of cyclists hadn’t seemed that close, but in reality they were just inches from my lens. Standing there by the side of the road, it felt like the cavalry descending on me. Panic starting to rise in my chest, I stumbled backwards, fearful not only of being hit but also of being forever known as the woman who had caused a pile-up in the 2014 Tour de Yorkshire.
By the time I’d regained my composure enough to lift my camera again, there was nothing left to photograph but the support cars. The peloton had passed.
From the moment I heard the Tour de France was heading for Yorkshire, I knew I had to be there. Though I’ve lived in London for most of my adult life, my roots are in Yorkshire. I grew up there, in Sheffield; my grandparents, mum and sister were all born there. I should’ve been born there.
(That I wasn’t is – as far as I’m concerned – entirely the fault of Leeds City Council. It was they, after all, who authorised the demolition of Quarry Hill flats in the centre of Leeds, where my parents had been living before my birth – which meant my parents had to move out and relocate to my grandparents’ house around the time I was due.
While Leeds City Council undoubtedly had very sound reasons for demolishing the flats – like the fact they were falling apart – their decision did have one unfortunate consequence. Instead of being born in God’s own county, I was born in Wolverhampton.)
So yes, although I could’ve stayed in London to watch the tour – after all, it passed within a 15-minute cycle ride of my house – I always knew I would head up to Yorkshire.
A friend of mine from university lives with her husband and two kids in a small village not far from Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire. The route for stage two of the tour would be passing close to her house; when I realised just how close, I immediately invited myself to stay. Another friend had also made plans to visit, so there would be a big group of us – kids and grown-ups – all watching the tour together.
Armed with enough food to feed an entire peloton, blankets, cameras and games for the kids, we set off on the Sunday morning for the short walk from my friend’s house to the A6024, which the tour would be passing along. Though it was barely midday when we bagged our spot by the side of the road, and the caravan wasn’t due through for another hour – and the peloton for another hour and a half after that – it was already buzzing. It would only get busier and busier as the afternoon rolled around.
There were families with picnics, kids running around and kicking a football about, people taking advantage of the car-free roads to take their bikes out for a spin, groups of friends with deck chairs and glasses of wine, and enough banners and bunting to desk out a thousand garden parties. There was even a guy with a trumpet – his renditions of On Ilkley Moor Baht ‘At and the theme song from Last of the Summer Wine, amongst other tunes, were greeted with loud cheers from the crowd.
By the time the caravan had passed through and the peloton was finally in sight, the excitement in the crowd had reached fever pitch. But in a way – despite the deafening shouts around me – I couldn’t help but feel that the actual race was almost secondary to the simple fact of the Tour being in Yorkshire.
In London we’re used to having major events, sporting or otherwise, right on our doorstep. But in Yorkshire? Here was one of the biggest sporting events in the whole world passing through tiny villages where nothing much ever happens.
When you stopped to think about it, it was really quite extraordinary.
And it was in Yorkshire – not somewhere down south, or even Lancashire, but Yorkshire. Here was a chance to show the rest of the world what every Yorkshireman or woman has always known – that Yorkshire really is the world’s greatest county.
This, I think, was why everyone had got behind it so much. This was why there was bunting in the streets, cut-out bicycles in almost every front window and yellow spray-painted bicycles dotted around everywhere. This was why farmers had spray painted their sheep, pubs had been renamed, and York Minster had been dressed in a yellow jersey.
This, after all, was why I’d made the journey up to Yorkshire. It wasn’t for the race itself, but for the atmosphere, the community spirit and the feeling of pride. It was so I could be part of something unique that I would almost certainly never get the chance to experience again.
Later that evening, after the stage was over, after the remains of the picnic had been put away and tired kids had been put to bed, I was watching the highlights of the day with my friends. One of them remarked that it felt like the end of Christmas day, the way there was all that build-up and anticipation and now it was all over.
Though I knew what she meant, I had to disagree. In my experience, Christmas never quite lives up to the anticipation – but this definitely did.
And besides, Christmas happens every year, but this was a one-off. If only it were every year – then I’d have more practice at taking photos of it.