Yorkshire basked in glorious sunshine this morning … 24 hours too late for a UCI Road Cycling World Championships that will be remembered in part for torrential rain more readily associated with British Cycling’s home city of Manchester across the Pennines, but the weather failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of fans who converged on Harrogate this weekend for the final races.
You’ll have seen on TV the thousands upon thousands of fans lining the roadside during yesterday’s Elite men’s road race.
Less visible were the thousands more taking shelter from the rain in the spa town’s many hostelries, including huge contingents from Belgium and the Netherlands and – perhaps more surprisingly – Norway, some of the latter treating passengers on the train up from Leeds yesterday morning to a rousing rendition of “Oh Harrogate is wonderful,” some of the words to which are best left to your imagination.
And British cycling fans, of course, were everywhere, too. While many overseas visitors opted for fancy dress – the Dutch, of course, head to toe in orange, the Belgians tending to go for the national cycling team colours of sky blue, red, yellow and black and the Norwegians bedecked in their country’s flags, and people from Slovakia in blingtastic official Peter Sagan merchandise – many of the Brits sported their cycling club colours.
Ilkley were out on force on Saturday, so too, from slightly farther afield, Solihull. But besides club stalwarts, there were families out cycling, with toddlers on balance bikes (and serious wet weather onesies that may have got a jealous glance or two from any pro riders who clocked them yesterday).
It had all been so different on Saturday. Above the start zone of the women’s elite road race in Bradford, there were hundreds of umbrellas in the rainbow colours of blue, red, black, yellow and green. They weren’t needed, with blue skies and the sun shining over the championships for the first time in the week.
I was given a little Dutch flag, perhaps because I am blond and just tall enough to pass for someone from the Netherlands … but it was waved every single time Annemiek van Vleuten crossed the finish line on her way to an epic victory on Saturday.
One Dutch fan, resplendent on head to toe orange with lion’s tail to match and sporting a pair of clogs … their version of a Tartan Army footsoldier’s See You Jimmy tartan hat and ginger wig, I guess … had a rather larger flag, with a black ribbon at the top; it turns out the Dutch didn’t take Nils Eekhoff’s disqualification in Friday’s under-23 men’s road race too well.
Despite Saturday’s fine weather, the damage the preceding days’ rain had done to the Fan Zone on The Stray was all too clear. Yes, most of the walkways had plastic decking, but where there were gaps, you risked going ankle deep in mud. The decision to close the zone yesterday on safety grounds after the previous night’s deluge was clearly the correct one.
Unless you’d arrived there early enough to brave the conditions and bag a prime place on the finishing straight yesterday, it was difficult to get on the barriers, and the nearby bars were rammed.
Rather improbably, there happened to be a spare table bang underneath the TV in one of them, the pub itself a small colony of the Low Countries for the afternoon; sadness from the Belgians when Philippe Gilbert was forced to abandon, astonishment from the Dutch when Mathieu van der Poel bonked.
You’d have been hard-pushed to find anyone there who didn’t expect Matteo Trentin to win from the final group, the consensus being that he launched his sprint too early.
The Danes who made the trip over may have been less numerous than the Norwegians, but you couldn’t miss them afterwards – in particular, a couple of lads standing on a table outside a pub by the finish, waving flags and singing along as Queen’s We Are The Champions was played on the PA.
Back to Saturday, and the train journey after the start to Leeds for the connection to Harrogate provided one of the more memorable vignettes of the weekend, as two elderly Yorkshire ladies, who had no idea that a cycling world championships was taking place up the road, struck up conversation with a pair of 20-something Dutch girls over for the event.
“So where are you off to now?” asked one of the local ladies. “Harrogate, where the race finishes,” came the reply. To which the other Yorkshirewoman, a scowl on her face, responded, “I went there once. They made me pay £5 for a cake at Betty’s.”
The world championships may have come and gone, but please, Yorkshire, never change.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.