This year the Tour de France started in Yorkshire, with the Grand Départ from Leeds. On Monday 07 July the peloton sped through London and, of course, our social programme team were there to watch it.
It is not every day that they close off the roads around Buckingham Palace. It’s even rarer that they do it when there is not a member of the Royal family in sight.
However, this past Monday, the roads were closed as Cycling’s premier event: the ‘Tour de France’ came to London. The social programme took a group of students down to get as close as possible on the Mall.
Toughest sporting event in the world
After settling the question of just why the bicycle competition of France had spent 3 days in Britain – the race every year begins in a different European country - the students were keen to find out just how difficult the toughest sporting competition in the world really was.
Their answer came quite quickly as images of British hopeful Chris Froome’s nasty crash flashed up on the big screens in St James Park. Last year’s winner Froome, got back onto his bike, despite deep wounds and a visibly painful wrist injury.
This prompted many humorous questions as to just why they would want to cycle through the pouring rain for 22 days and 3,644 Kilometres. To which, the only reasonable answer was that they must be a little bit crazy.
Brits embrace France's biggest sporting event
The mood despite the darkening clouds was jovial, with the many hundreds of fans streaming through Trafalgar square and the ‘London 2012’ spirit out in force amongst the volunteers who helped organise the event.
The shock was visible on the faces of the students as they got closer to the finish line, people were queuing eight or nine people deep to the fence and the riders were still more than an hour away. This wasn’t just any bike race.
The students and their social programme assistant contented themselves with browsing the number of merchandise stalls and pop-up food outlets as they waited for the cyclists to enter the city from the east, past the Olympic Stadium and along the Embankment.
As the cyclists got nearer, every car or motorbike that sped past the crowds got a bigger and bigger cheer, while the students found a good spot directly in front of a big screen. This ensured that even if the shorter members of the group only saw the tops of the riders’ heads as they sped past, they would be sure not to miss the exciting finish.
And then they were gone...
In the end, the riders came and went in less than a minute, with the leading cyclists passing in a blur of colours and mobile phone lights.
The speed generated by their legs impressed many, while the warmth of support for those riders arriving later than the main bunch – the peleton in cycling language – meant the celebration continued late into the afternoon.
Eventually as the crowds left the park, the group was left to think just how much effort it takes to ride the Tour de France and were encouraged to hop on their bikes as soon as possible.
Find out more about the IH London social programme