When I first heard that the Tour de France was coming to Waltham Forest I thought my mate was winding me up. We were in the Bell when he told me the tour would be passing through, and my first reaction was to ask how much beer he’d had. He grabbed his phone and searched the web for the article he had read and passed it to me. Turned out he wasn’t drunk, well he was a bit, but he was also telling the truth, the Tour de France would be coming to Walthamstow. Not long ago the road closure signs started popping up along the route and on Markhouse Road, race day was getting close.
Today was the day that the bikes raced through E17. Initially we planned on going to Whipps Cross Round About to watch the Tour pass by, but that seemed like a trek considering it was heading down Lea Bridge Road not far from home. In the end we decided to head the Hare and Hounds pub on the Leyton side of Lea Bridge to watch the race. We left home stupidly early but that did mean we got a good spot right by the side of the road. We set up camp, well, unfolded a chair, and waited, and then waited a bit more, I did say we were early.
The setup at the Hare and Hounds was great, a couple of barbecues were on the go and baguettes and samosas were being sold outside the pub. The Leyton bike shack were set up in the car park, although they did nearly loose their gazebo in a gust of wind, and there was live music by the front door. A good number of people turned out and began to line both sides of the street and together we waited some more. The first thing to pass through was the caravan, much to my surprise the caravan was not a caravan but a collection of cars, vans and floats carrying advertising for the race sponsors. It did feel a bit strange cheering for giant fruit shoot bottle, but large events need sponsors to continue so perhaps this corporate part of the race was a necessary evil.
By the time the caravan that was not a caravan had passed by the crowds had grown larger, and we all did a little bit more waiting. It was odd seeing Lea Bridge Road at a stand still, usually it is buzzing with traffic and people. Today it was still full of people, but the people were sitting on walls, and lounging on the curb instead of cramming on buses and walking with heads down, determined not to be delayed. It was like being at a street party, voices and laughter and music mixing together and replacing the sound of traffic that usually fills the air here.
We were expecting the race to pass by around 3pm, as the time approached the crowd filled out as the people in the pub came out to join those of us on the street. People edged closer to the road, and in some cases moved on to the road, much to the annoyance of the stewards. Camera’s and camera phones were primed and ready in out stretched arms as we all waited for the roar of wheels and cogs to fly past. The first indication that the riders were getting close came in the form of a helicopter hovering over the road a little way in the distance. Soon after a couple of vehicles raced past closely followed by the two lead riders who vanished almost as quickly as they arrived. Then we saw them, a sea of bikes and riders crossing the junction of Markhouse and Lea Bridge Road, heading towards us at a rate of knots. It was like watching a mechanical swarm fly past us, flashes of colour and metal passing by, the crowds providing accompanying cheers. The swarm of bikes soon thinned out and before long the support vehicles sped past indicating the race had passed us by. It only lasted a matter of minutes, but it was an impressive site, and made the waiting worth while.
I confess that I don’t really follow the Tour normaly, but it isn’t every day that a world class event passes by 10 minutes away from home. The street party atmosphere followed by the roar of the bikes made for an interesting day by the road side. I comented to my friend that not many places can lay claim to being a host borough for the Olympics and on the route for the Tour de France a few years later. What’s next for sports in Walthamstow I wonder? perhaps Wimbeldon should relocate to the tennis courts in Lloyd Park for a year? Or the FA cup could be played on the marshes? What ever comes next, it will need to big to beat the last few years of major sporting events that have taken place on our door steps.