The Tour Comes To Town
Well, not that tour but plenty of excitement was abound the streets of Colchester, one of only twelve towns to host these short but frenetic criterium races. It never ceases to amaze me, the number of people, although small businesses in particular who throw the arms skyward in despair at the first mention of road closures-especially for a bicycle race. I could sense a frisson of agitation as I piloted my own car through the outskirts last Thursday evening, parking in the town’s former Garrison area.
Walking into the town centre, a carnival atmosphere simmered in the high street as cyclists of all ages revelled in the majesty of traffic free roads, many riding the circuit while they opportunity presented itself. Business was definitely booming with traders of all descriptions enjoying increased footfall that such events generate.
6PM The pros began to parade the circuit together, oft serenaded with cat calls from increasingly inebriated, yet good humoured women, some riders playing to the gallery, most simply laughing and joking amongst themselves before the serious business of racing began Little by little the streets swelled with spectators and the electricity of anticipation. A group of children chorused their impatience from the corner of Head street, drowned out at a couple of minutes past seven by a victorious whoop as the motorcycle entrage rumbled onto the main concourse, signalling the start.
The motorcycle cameraman wearing cut off jogging bottoms and trainers perches precariously aboard the pillion. For a few laps the Peleton remained together, the squeal of brakes and clicking of STI controls as they swooped into the sharp turn along St John St. It didn’t take long for a BMC rider to fall from the back of the group, completing every lap with cheers and polite applause from the crowd but his race was run, lapped- the motorcycle outrider and Peleton inching ever closer. As time worse on, the racing became more serious, small breakaways formed and it gladdened my heart to see so many people, a good number who’d probably never swung their leg over a top tube, or at least turned a pedal in anger since their early teens; captivated and moreover enthralled.
As my camera shutter whirred and clicked away and the night air grew chill, my mind pondered Paul Kimmage’s seminal book “Rough Ride”; depicting criteriums as circus shows all about pleasing the crowds but with orchestrated attacks, breakaways and of course prize money shared and placings decided before the start. I hoped for better here but whatever the outcome, I had been fortunate enough to witness the racing first hand.