FanPost

Tour de France stage 2: Somewhere on a hill above Sheffield

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So astonishingly, amazingly, miraculously, the big day arrived and the Tour de France came to Sheffield, for heaven's sake. Slightly fazed by just how big the crowds had been the day before, I discounted previous ideas of going to the finish in favour of somewhere I thought I might actually be able to see, and settled on the Côte de Midhopestones, the point at which the race crossed into the city and the first categorized climb in a long sequence on the way to the finish.

There's the Côte seen from the other side of the valley, snaking up through the line of trees right in the middle of the picture to the open moorland towards Bradfield at the top:

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Reading the live thread I realize some people are against the frenchification of place names but anything that even slightly disturbs our monoglot complacency is fine with me. In any case, this road - an old turnpike following the route of an ancient packhorse trail - has at least two names already (Mortimer Road and Strines Road) and the village at the bottom has two (Midhopestones or just plain Midhope), so another can hardly hurt. And if the city council have their way, it's going to stick:

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The aim was to get to the KOM point at the top but, erm, well, it soon became clear that even three or so hours before the race was due there were already large numbers of people, so I settled for a point on a steep roadside bank about half way up.

Time for le pique-nique. Here's the family opposite me:

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If they look well-organized, the family to my left had brought plates and glasses.

Then it was make-your-own-entertainment time. The Mexican wave went up and down the hill a few times, rippling out confusingly in both directions. A bloke pushing his kids up the slope in a wheelbarrow got huge cheers, along with five human bottles of Sheffield cult condiment Henderson's Relish:

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Eventually the caravan came, though I suspect they'd over-exerted themselves a bit on Holme Moss, leaving little energy for the demanding stage finale. The Yorkshire Y got big cheers in response to a crowd-pleasing 'Can you shout louder than Leeds?' but very little swag actually seemed to be handed out, with the exception of Carrefour KOM caps.

This moment of quintessential (and by this point in the day perhaps slightly stony-faced) Frenchness went down well in the lanes:

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as did the cars with Miffy (or 'Nijntje', as super Ted informs me) promoting Utrecht's Grand Départ next year.

Then followed various race vehicles, including (is this usual?) a Sheffield City Council streetsweeping truck escorted by motorcycling gendarmes. A helicopter up above was the first sign the race was getting near, perhaps on the way down from Holme Moss:

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Here they come!

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The race had come back together on the Woodhead Pass but started to split again almost immediately on the climb, with Garmin forcing the pace for Tom Slagter to take the KOM points at the top. That wasn't entirely apparent from where I was stood, but the speed at the front of the bunch and how quickly riders began to be shed was obvious. It's also strange how clearly riders like Contador and Nibali (both with highly distinctive styles) stand out when you've seen a lot of them on the tele.

Here's Laurens ten Dam - in my first non-super blurry photo - further down in that group:

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The main bunch starting to thin (Jens! just visible in polka dots towards the back):

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Behind the first set of cars various gruppetti had already formed. Niki Terpstra and Danny van Poppel:

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(Danny Pate was also in this group.)

A lot's been said about crowds and crowd behaviour but on this road, probably one of the narrowest of the stage, it all seemed to go pretty well, at least from where I was standing. Many people seemed very knowledgeable and there was a lot of shouting riders' names, especially as the groups slowed down a bit.

Greg Henderson leading the yellow jersey group:

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Gruppetto with Bernie Eisel, Elia Viviani, Navardauskas etc.:

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Petacchi and Kluge straggling at the back:

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Then there was a long wait until a battered-looking Lampre rider, who I expected to be Modolo but who was actually Richeze. But no broom wagon. More waiting. Some people started to move off down the hill. Still waiting. Then eventually Modolo came, looking pretty rough, broom wagon following behind:

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Modolo got a lot of warm support of the 'come on, son' variety, but it reminded me a bit of getting lapped in the 1500m at school sports day and absolutely hating everybody cheering for me. It's not nice to see someone suffering quite like that and I'm glad he stopped soon afterwards.

Then back down the hill to the pub for the finish:

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Nothing gives you a better sense of how fast the race travels than getting to the pub shortly after the race has gone by and discovering where the leaders have already reached. For obvious reasons, I try not to be too big a fan of particular riders or get too excited about particular results but I got a bit giddy when Nibali attacked and was willing him on to the finish. Nibali wins his first Tour stage and it's in... Sheffield, of all places. And it was a brilliant finish, too. Somewhere there's a quote from Contador where he says something like all the attacks on Jenkin Road were more or less 'for show' but hey, what a show. It's great to go to a stage in your home town but even better if it's a race other people will remember as well.

Walking back up the other side of the valley in a sea of people and bikes, a sheet of rain peeled off the moor and drenched us all. Didn't care.

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