One of the things I always notice, time and again, stood at the roadside: Birdsong. There, in the background until you notice it and, from that moment on, integral to the scene. A quiet, rural lane. 200m down from a redbrick farmhouse that gives reason to the single car-width, potholed, metalled surface. Still, warm air.
Nobody stands here on any other day of the year. A small Citroen van rolls past, the driver dutifully ignoring three people standing on the roadside upon which nobody usually stands. We are trespassing on sleepy normality.
Orange flashing lights…
The first lead car slips purposefully by, edging the anticipation up another notch, the gap between it and the hurtling peloton like the seconds between the sheet lightening and the violence of the thunder. The second lead vehicle appears- the race arrives! Craning my neck to absorb the scene, I recognise firstly the team kit, then the actual rider, tearing alone through the evening stillness. He’s pursued by a hurtling peloton of riders 100m behind, he’s a careering flashpoint of energy and unparalleled effort, scything through the glimmer of barely perceptible twilight, prey ahead of a hunting pack. Heads quickly swivel, watching him flee-“GO!”-then snap back to take in the ferocious chase, thirty or more individual riders moving organically and skillfully as one. In three seconds they’re gone, our hair and thin jackets still stirring within eddies of displaced air left behind by the race as the whoosh of tyres and chains recedes.
This small road could be anywhere in Europe: leafy France, rural Flanders. This evening it’s Cropwell Bishop, Nottinghamshire. A local league race, fought out at an average speed of just under 43Kph- you may want to check out the average speeds of the professional races to put that into context. For me, this is the beauty and draw of cycle racing: Be it one of the great monuments of the sport or a local league sign-on-the-line, the essence is the same, the racing always as hard as possible from the protagonists involved. And, of course, the birdsong.