Tour of Britain: I spent the afternoon in Newark to watch cyclists speed past in the blink of an eye

Benedict Cooper

A golden late summer glow followed the riders of the Tour of Britain as they zipped through the north Nottinghamshire countryside, a whizzing kaleidoscope of metals and wheels bound for the ancient town of Newark.

Starting deep within Sherwood Forest, place of thousand-year-old myths and legends, the 166 km route followed the woodland and rural roads from Edwinstoe, on through Clumber Park, Worksop and Retford, climbing the heights of Red Hill before rolling through the towns of Bilsthorpe, Southwell, and finally, four hours after the racers had set off, to the finishing line at Newark.

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The prestigious Tour of Britain has been through Nottinghamshire three times before, but this was the first time Sherwood Forest was chosen as the host for the starting point.

And on this refulgent September day it felt as gripping a spectacle as you might find on any of the cycling world’s grander tours.

Benedict Cooper

Certainly for the people of Newark, where I set up, it was a day of pure excitement and anticipation. The town palpably hummed with expectation, and the joy of basking in an unexpected late wave of heat.

Hosting the event, the finishing line no less, is a proud moment for any town. And on this perfect summer’s day, that pride went well beyond cycling.

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It was a chance for the town, and the community, to show itself off to the world, and to welcome the multi-coloured cavalcade of cycling teams, TV crews, cycling clubs and visitors for one day.

If you’d walked past the Newark Evangelical Church on the day you would have been offered free donuts, cakes and glasses of water. And everywhere you went locals beamed proudly, and smiled warmly, to passers by, while local businesses welcomed the influx of new customers.

Benedict Cooper

After all the build up, the excited chatter, the bunting and the barricades, it was all over in a matter of seconds in a zipping, whooshing sprint along Victoria Street.

I don’t think I took a breath as they went past the spot I’d picked, on a sharp curve of road where Lombard Street meets Portland Street.

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One second the outrider cars and police vehicles were approaching, the next the eyes and ears were blasted with a sharp, buzzing burst of pedals furiously turning, a runaway train of yellows and blues and reds whizzing past, and the whoops and cheers of the hundreds of spectators lining the road on both sides.

And then, just like that, they had gone.

Benedict Cooper

Of course, the results of the race were probably less important to many than the buzz and the spectacle of the day itself. But it was concluded in dramatic fashion, right up to the wire.

In fact, it was a record-book day, with Dutch cyclist Olav Kooij, of the Jumbo-Visma team, equalling a previous best of four consecutive Tour of Britain stage victories.

He and winners in the various categories - including the coveted king of the mountains prizes - were greeted by a large crowd on the sunbaked Sconce and Devon Park, for their podium moment.

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Already the remarkable logistical operation of packing everything down and getting the riders on to their next tour stop, in Sussex, had begun.

It was one of those golden moments, even for someone who isn’t, or at least, up until now, hasn’t been, a fan of cycling. For those who are fans, it must have felt like a little glimpse of heaven.

Later in the day I overheard cyclists from a local club, one of many proudly out in their team colours, sitting outside a pub in the late afternoon sun, excitedly nattering about what they’d just seen.

Earlier in the day one of them had picked up a water bottle discarded by rider Wout Van Aert. Joining in the post-race chatter, his new souvenir proudly on the table, the man smiled and said, simply and happily: “Best afternoon ever”.

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