With the world’s biggest annual sporting event starting in Leeds a month tomorrow, here’s the latest instalment in our Inside The Tour de France Machine series in which we go behind the scenes with the people putting together the Grand Départ of the 101st edition of the race.
In this instalment, we speak to Bob Brayshaw, Safety & Security Director at TDF HUB 2014 Ltd, the company set up by UK Sport to co-ordinate the planning of the three stages in Great Britain. Formerly an Inspector with West Yorkshire Police, he has spent a decade working with the Tour of Britain in charge of the police escort and was also involved in the cycling events at London 2012.
One month to go
Road.cc: We're one month away from the start of the Tour, how happy are you with preparations?
Bob Brayshaw: We have now reached the final stages of planning, which includes an intensive process of testing and running exercises to ensure that everything happens as planned for race days.
We are also finalising details of spectator, traffic and route management, along with the roles for the 10,000 Tour Makers who will be the friendly faces of the race. And over the next month TdFHUB2014 Ltd, Welcome to Yorkshire, partners and stakeholders are working closely to deliver the best Grand Départ Tour de France fans have ever witnessed.
Crowd management challenges
Road.cc: Crowds of 1 million + are expected on each of the three days, so similar in scale to the Olympic Road Race, how do you manage that number of people safely?
Bob Brayshaw: Managing large scale crowds at any event is a complex issue, to ensure everyone gets to where they want to go, watches the race and gets home safely.
We're working with the specialist planning teams within each local authority - as well as with transport providers and others - to manage a whole range of environmental and geographical challenges.
There are enclosed areas in small towns such as Otley or Skipton right through to the very exposed and open moorland. These all pose different challenges and it's only with detailed planning we can manage such large crowds.
No ticketing at key climbs, but get there early
Road.cc: We're aware that there will be spectator restrictions on parts of the route such as at Buttertubs Pass on Stage 1 and Holme Moss in Stage 2.¬ How will those be enforced? We haven't seen anything about tickets or cost (unlike Box Hill at London 2012).
Bob Brayshaw: The Tour is the biggest free sporting event in the world so there will be no repeat of the ticketing of places like at Box Hill. We have to balance the spirit of the Tour with some sensible crowd management for the safety of the riders and the spectators, so if a location is looking too full we will advise incoming visitors to move to other less populated areas.
Roads closed to cyclists half hour before caravan passes
Road.cc: A lot of cyclists are planning on riding to their viewing point, possibly on the Tour route once it's been closed to motor traffic. Will this be possible and how long before the caravan/race passes will roads be closed to cyclists?
Bob Brayshaw: Cyclists and pedestrians will be able to use the route up until 30 minutes before the caravan arrives. Along the route pedestrian access will be available through stewarded crossing points.
Although the route must be clear half an hour before the caravan coming through, about two hours before the race, this guidance may change on the day for operational reasons. Follow the advice of stewards to stay safe. If you are planning to take your bike with you, plan to make it your primary mode of transport, so ride it to and from the Tour.
Respect the race and riders
Road.cc: Many, perhaps most, spectators won't have seen a bike race on this scale before, and won't appreciate the speed the peloton goes on the flat or the vast array of vehicles accompanying it. What is your specific safety advice to them? What about children and dogs (one almost took out Peter Sagan on Corsica last year)?
Bob Brayshaw: We want everyone to have a fantastic day and enjoy the atmosphere of the Tour, as well as the spectacle of the peloton which will be moving at an incredible speed. For your safety and that of the peloton, we're advising people to watch from an enjoyable but respectful distance and avoid getting too close to the riders.
Make sure you listen to the stewards and Tour Makers about when it is safe to cross the route, use the pedestrian crossing points where provided, supervise children and animals and keep them off the route, stand on the footpath and within allocated viewing areas wherever possible and avoid climbing, walking or standing on dry stone walls.
We've also worked closely with the NHS to offer detailed guidance for children, people with long-term health conditions and older people, who are much more likely to experience problems associated with the weather. This is available here.
French guards on British roads
Road.cc: The French Garde Republicaine will be marshalling the race, what are the specific issues of them operating on UK roads and how will the National Escort Group assist them?
Bob Brayshaw: Whilst the Garde Republicaine has no legal powers in the UK, they are the operational experts for this event and key to the look and feel of the race. They will bring an exciting visual element to the parade. A UK police motorcycle team (Central Escort Group), which is experienced in supporting large events, will be on hand to ensure the roads are safe, and secure.
Prior to retirement from the West Yorkshire Police in October 2013 I was the lead for the national team for the past 10 years, so I have no doubt that our combined efforts will ensure a safe and exciting race for generations to remember.
Puzzles not problems
Road.cc: In your experience working on the Tour of Britain for the past 10 years and at London 2012, what have been the biggest problems you have had to deal with?
Bob Brayshaw: I genuinely don't see anything on the races as a problem, I get a buzz out of the puzzles posed, which is good fun. Most issues are usually associated with planning and managing legalities, policies, and logistics.
The one which pops into my mind is just after I proudly extolled the virtues of my team to a very senior police officer whilst sitting in a car waiting for the start of the Tour of Britain stage, one of the 28 Central Escort Group bikes fell and knocked a second one to the ground.
It was a simple case of a bit of gravel under foot and in any circumstances funny, but another moment would have been better!
New Forest stampede
Road.cc: And the most unexpected or unusual situation you've had to tackle?
Bob Brayshaw: You'd be surprised at some of the situations which arise and some of the situations we test for, from flooding to animals on the route. The one which springs to mind is when we were faced with a stampede of animals heading for the peloton during the 2007 Tour of Britain.
We'd entered the New Forest, crossed a cattle grid and when I looked left I saw a full on wild-west stampede of over 100 cattle at full gallop towards the peloton. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.
About a mile down the road three cyclists rode round a bend into the side of a very large cow and tumbled off without any harm. The cow continue to chew cud and looked around and under its belly with a rather non-committal expression. I'm sure it was thinking 'now that's odd'.
Keeping riders safe
Road.cc: The peloton is always nervous In the opening days of the Tour, and Marcel Kittel has said he thinks Yorkshire's roads are "dangerous" (with the descents, dry stone walls etc) and expects a lot of crashes; how to you plan for a big crash that could happen anywhere on the route and possibly in a remote area? Are there any expected "black spots"?
Bob Brayshaw: The geography of each race provides different challenges for professional cyclists and it's no different here. With its variety of climbs and hills, and twists and turns, this route was selected by race organisers ASO to test the abilities of the best riders in the world.
If there is a crash we can call upon medical resources across all the stages, no matter how remote the location. This includes mountain rescue teams which are used to dealing with emergencies in the most secluded areas.
We have been working closely with local authorities to identify and reduce risks to cyclist safety, including removal of street furniture, improving road surfaces, placing a yellow flag waver before an obstacle, using straw bales or chevron scrim, or by requesting that the ASO route manager passes on this information within the team manager's meeting.
The staff completing these risk assessments have an extensive background of elite cycle racing, including the 2012 Olympic road race & time trial. We'll also have Tour Makers on hand at key points along the routes to guide both riders and crowds away from obstacles.
Beware of the bus
Road.cc: Finally, thinking back to the opening stage last year, have you checked that the finish line arch has adequate clearance for all team buses?
Bob Brayshaw: The Corisca bus incident is a great example of how we need to plan for ALL eventualities and it sharpens everyone¹s minds in the final few weeks because none of us want an incident like that to happen on our watch!
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.