Beautiful Britain By Bike – Tour of Britain (stage one).
Back in July I entered a competition to win a day in the Vittoria UK Neutral Service Car for Stage One of the Tour of Britain – I was fortunate enough to have my name pulled out the hat & today I got to experience the thrills & spills of a top professional cycle race at close quarters! Even better, the prize was for 2 people, my good friend & long time cycling buddy Sean would be enjoying the experience too.
A mere 30 minutes after leaving our hotel in Llanelli, we arrived at Pembrey Country Park, for the start of the 2018 Tour of Britain. There were only a few hundred people on site when we turned up at 8.15am, but it wasn’t long before the fans & teams started turning up. We met our host Jon at 9.15 & he took us straight into the VIP section, where we enjoyed a coffee & panini as he talked us through the plan for the day.
There was time to catch up with Ian Ruck & Bryn (who was racing later at Pembrey – he finished 2nd!) for a fun 25 minutes looking round the team buses (they varied in size from camper vans for the domestic teams to the Death-Star (as it’s lovingly known) for Team Sky. The winner of best team car went to Team Pro One Cycling, as they’re sponsored by Aston Martin & three of them were on display!!! It was great to see so many of the riders making time to sign autographs for their young fans.
We then had exclusive access to the teams as they signed on prior to the start of the stage – Alex Dowsett was the British rider (& previous ToB stage winner) for Katusha Alpecin, while Connor Swift is the current British road race champion & was proudly sporting his stripes. Jon managed to get us in amongst the press, so we were right next to the riders, in fact I nearly bumped into Team GB’s Ben Swift! From here, Sean & I went our separate ways, as I went off to the Vittoria car, while Sean made his way to the finish for VIP access to the Tour village.
I was introduced to Marco (our driver) & Matteo (our mechanic), two Italians who made me feel welcome from the moment we met. We were in the lead Vittoria car, which would provide neutral service (drinks, spare wheels, mechanical assistance etc) if there was an early break. This is the biggest race in the UK cycling calendar, so I figured that it was a nailed on certainty that some of the domestic teams would want to have a rider up the road getting their sponsors some air-time on ITV4.
After an 8km neutralised start, the race began in earnest, with a mere 174.8km to go until the finish in Newport! It took about 45 minutes for the day’s 6 rider break to finally escape from the main peloton – there were representatives from Team Dimension Data, Team GB, Madison Genesis, JLT Condor, Canyon Eisberg & Team Wiggins.
The excitement began for me when we pulled to the side of the road to let the breakaway past, as we were now officially in business. If anyone needed any assistance, we’d be in the middle of action! As we headed for the first intermediate sprint in Camarthen, it was clear that the supporters were out in force to support the Tour of Britain – in places the crowd was 4 or 5 deep. The race was taking place on rolling closed roads, where the entire race convoy is protected in a bubble of road closures, which is expertly organised by the local police & race marshals. The riders can race safe in the knowledge that they won’t meet any oncoming traffic, but the roads are also only shut for a short period of time.
After an hour of racing the peloton had covered 47km & the break had a lead of almost 2 minutes. We were now nearing the first of the day’s climbs Bethlehem Hill & it was here that misfortune struck Richard Handley of Madison Genesis – a rear wheel puncture! His team car was there within seconds of him stopping, but the convoy of service cars (including us) were past in a flash & it looked like his time in the break was over. However, Richard had other ideas, as he sprinted past us as the climb began & he tucked in behind the Canyon Eisberg car to get some aero assistance as he chased down the rest of the break.
Up ahead, the break split in two on the descent & Richard joined the chasers of Canyon Eisberg & Team GB, as it became a 3 vs 3 time trial for a couple of kilometres. Eventually they managed to join up with the 3 leaders again & it were back to a 6 man break. Then out of the blue we were called into action, as Nic Dlamini of Team Dimension Data needed a drink & we were on the scene in no time! Everything looks so simply on tv, but the reality is that both bike & car are speeding along at in excess of 45 km an hour & the slightest mistake will spell disaster. However, all went well on this occasion & Nic soon joined his 5 escapees.
As we headed for the 2nd King of the Mountains climb, the peloton still had the break in their sights – a mere 1 minute 30 separated to the two groups & all the support vehicles were called out of the gap & we were sent ahead by race control. Although this was the last of the action that we’d see, we had a front row view of the incredible crowd that had turned out to welcome Geraint Thomas as he rode on his home roads. A Welsh winner of the Tour de France & here he was being lauded by his countrymen & women, what an amazing sight it was!
We sped away from the race that was taking place behind & we were able to park up & get to the finish line just ahead of the action, as Andre Griepel just held off Caleb Ewen & Fernando Gaviria for the win! Marco, Matt & I had our photos taken together, so I had a memento of a special day at the Tour of Britain.
Then as I was heading to the presentation podium, I passed the Team Sky bus & managed to get a snap of Geraint Thomas & Chris Froome as they were warming down!
The final act of the day was to meet up with Sean & Jon in the VIP village, where we climbed aboard the Vittoria bus for a coffee & to catch up on all we’d seen. I want to end my update by saying an enormous THANK YOU to Jon, Marco & Matt for a truly exceptional day & to Katie at Vittoria UK for organising everything.