Sunday, 23 September 2012

Tour of Britain

On the 15th of September I cycled out to Yelverton, where my friend Simon lives. The Tour of Britain's Devon stage was taking place on the day, and we had a cunning plan to ride out to Merrivale (a King of the Mountains stage) to watch the riders go by, and return to Yelverton via Princetown. Our intended route was partially via quiet lanes, and more than half-way along a disused track bed.

We picked Merrivale because of several good reasons:
1) It is in the middle of nowhere, increasing the likelihood that there wouldn't be too many people about,
2) It is a painful uphill to ride up, which means the riders would be slower than on other stretches, giving us more time to see them

So as not to clearly show where Simon lives, the map below shows our route from the centre of Yelverton:


As the elevation clearly shows, it was uphill nearly all the way, and my panniers were loaded - to the extent I even had two camping stools that I was carrying. Simon's wife came along, which was a good thing, as besides her being good company, it meant I could go slower on the uphills not because I was getting tired, but because I was being a gentleman! Anyway, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Our route took us past Swelltor quarrie, where there still remain granite corbells chiseled for the original London Bridge - the one that is now in the USA. When we rounded King's Tor, and caught sight of the Merrivale road for the first time, we were very surprised! The road appeared to be one big traffic jam! Clearly lots of people thought Merrivale would be a good vantage point, but were foolish enough to drive there.

Originally the plan was to head down the hill as far as Fourwinds, but with the large number of people already there we decided against it, and simply found a good spot by the side of the road. Initially we had plenty of space to ourselves, but more and more people kept coming. Annoyingly, despite the enormous number of cyclists who cycled there, there were a stupid amount of cars.

As the morning progressed, even more cars arrived, with some drivers trying to squeeze in anywhere to park. So much so that there were some people who were pretty much pushed out the spot they occupied, simply so that some lazy, selfish latecomer could park their car. Not on!

As the morning progressed, we used the super-size pieces of chalk Simon bought and wrote GO CAV all over the road, but our efforts were soon partially destroyed by the never-ending stream of cars.
Still, the general level of excitement was growing, and with more cyclists arriving, it seemed that cyclists were outnumbering drivers by some ratio.

Just when people started getting really impatient, the TV helicopter came into view, far off in the distance. Soon after police motorcyclists came through with blue lights flashing, followed in due course by an announcing car that told us over its PA system that the peleton was chasing a breakaway group, and that there were several minutes difference between them.

The roadside was very crowded at this stage, and soon leading race vehicles drove past. Not long after, the first riders came by, amidst cheers and applause from the crowd. Now the plan was to stop on an uphill, as they'd be slower, but they weren't slow by any means! If I could ride up Merrivale at half that speed I'd be well impressed with myself.

All too soon, the broom wagon drove by, complete with witch's broom duct-taped to the side, and suddenly it was over. It wasn't an anti-climax, and the crowd was full of smiles.

Like so many others, we started packing up, and were soon on our bikes again, heading uphill towards Princetown, on the off-chance that something noteworthy related to the tour might be on. The road rapidly became a car park, with the only people moving the cyclists overtaking all the stationary cars.

There were a considerable number of kids amongst the cyclists, which is always a good sign. The safety in numbers effect sure kicked in as scores of cyclists were holding cars at bay, creating a perfectly safe environment for even young cyclists to ride in.

Sadly there were no Tour of Britain sponsors handing out freebies in Princetown, so we set off towards Yelverton, again on the disused railway track bed. Near Ingra Tor we stopped for a bite to eat, and to admire the view. This time we followed the track bed all the way to the A386, and cycled through Dousland to Yelverton.

All in all it was a good day out, and I cycled home to Plymouth with a satisfied grin on my mouth.