Vincenzo Nibali is not a name that trips off the tongue but one that I will remember with pride for a very long time. Seeing Vincenzo Nibali the “Mailott jaune” riding through the streets of Cambridge with fellow riders on the 7th July for the 3rd Stage of the 2014 Tour de France brought a big lump to my throat. Why you ask? From March 2014 I had been employed by Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Council to promote stage 3 to it’s residents, so seeing thousands of people lining the streets, experiencing the deafening roar as the riders passed and seeing the greatest bike riders in the world in the greatest bike race, right in front of me was truly amazing.
The Devil and Me 2009 Monte Carlo
My interest in the Tour de France goes back as long as I can remember and inspires me each year to ride more, ride harder and to be more ambitious. After witnessing the 1st stage in 2009 which saw Fabian Cancellara win the time trial I was mesmerized. That stage was in Monte Carlo, a more classic backdrop you just couldn’t imagine.
Among my highlights of that day were meeting the famous “Devil” and also Sean Kelly a legend of the tour.
2009 was one of the first times that electronic gears were used on the time trial bikes, which you could clearly hear as the riders flicked their levers on the steep climbs round the circuit. Other than the tremendous speed of the riders the other thing that captured my imagination at that time was the helicopters. Each rider, on setting off at 2 minute intervals, was tracked by the helicopter. Behind each rider was a car bearing the riders name on the bonnet all accompanied by flashing lights sirens and thousands of spectators it was truly spectacular.
Since that day I’ve dreamed of my own helicopter hovering above me, and behind me a car with my name on. Although I know that will never happen, it certainly makes me ride faster, even on a wet windy day in Derbyshire.
2014 has been a difficult year in my life beginning with the death of my father, who loved to cycle and rode his bike almost everyday, it was shortly after his death that I got a job working on the Tour de France.
Although my father rarely gave compliments I felt sure that he would be proud of my new appointment and my contributions to the greatest bike race on earth.
I worked hard for 4 months, planning, organising and working with colleagues to both make sure Cambridge was appropriately branded with lamp post banners, posters, bunting etc.. and to make sure local residents were aware of the significant disruptions which would affect them on July 7th (a Monday). This we achieved effectively with a few stressful moments but in the main everything we set out to achieve we did.
Stephen Roche 1987 TdF Winner
On the night before the race I was on duty capturing images of the build up, and couldn’t believe my luck when I was introduced to Stephen Roche one of only two riders to win the “Triple Crown” Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the World road race championships.
So to race day. Walking into Cambridge at 7 am it was a beautiful day and crowds were already starting to gather. Tour makers were being briefed and the Council were removing bikes locked to railings. I was looking forward to a historic day. As part of my role on the Social Media side I had a list of images to send through to control to posted, I worked my way round taking pictures of the crowd, start line, tour buses, big screen and of course the riders.
Just before the start I was given access to the “Tour Village” a secure area where media, riders and officials relaxed and went about their business, it was quite a privilege. I felt like a little boy in a sweet shop, everywhere I looked there were riders, team mangers and beautiful girls (all dressed in yellow of course). I took my photo’s then moved on towards the start, as I’d got this far I thought I would ride my luck and walk down the inside of the barriers where riders were gathering, nobody stopped me! It felt like an out of body experience, was I really walking down to the Tour de France start with the worlds greatest riders all around me? I was and in the end as I didn’t have a security pass I decided it would be best to leave voluntarily rather than be ejected which would have been embarrassing, so I hopped over the fence.
My Helicopter – I wish :-)
Trying to get to the start on the other side of the barrier was impossible and I had to give up, just too many people. As I was making my way over to Trumpington Street I got a text from a friend telling me she thought “My Helicopter” had arrived! It certainly felt like that, I was almost floating down the road with excitement. A few minutes later the peleton came past preceded by the procession, service cars and numerous police and gendarmerie. Right in the centre was Vincenzo Nibali, the Yellow Jersey – a moment I will remember for the rest of my life..