Took a day off birding yesterday as the Aviva Women's Tour would effectively seal off most of North Herts during the day. As it turned out, unlike most major events e.g. last year's Tour de France, the road closures were rolling as the stages were somewhat smaller and with a smaller peleton and entourage. The stage set off from Waltham Cross and finished in Stevenage High Street, taking in some of the areas I know very well-Hoddesdon, Hertford, Cold Christmas, Furneaux Pelham, Barkway, Royston, Therfield Heath and the small villages running south from there into Stevenage. A challenging course with a very technical finish as it came in down Rectory Lane, past Alleyn's School, up Walkern road where the flamme rouge was sited, behind the High Street and then a very tight turn at the church to finish outside what used to be the Cromwell Hotel (can never remember it's current name).
Looking at the Stevenage section of the route I had considered a coupe of spots around Vardon Road and particularly the junction of Grace Way and Almond Hill-I thought that would be an excellent spot for photography with a very tight turn following a short straight, so I left at 1130 giving myself plenty of time to get there and see what it was like on the day. The drizzle started after about twenty minutes, and I did not fancy hanging around Grace Way for an hour as there was no-one else around apart from an event car and a few signs. So I went into the Old Town thinking I might find a suitable spot. Walkern road looked good with the last k flamme rouge set up and I did consider setting up here but carried on to see what the High Street was like.
Amazing to see the transformation with the finish line gantry, the commentary boxes, presentation stage and all the other paraphernalia opposite. I took shelter under one of the cherry trees and decided to phone Sarah about my change of plans. A bit difficult with the load pa system blaring away but we managed to speak, but I had to stop briefly as the legendary dutch cyclist Marrianne Vos swerved past me on the pavement. I think she had just completed the course ahead of the race (she wasn't participating this year, and has been doing the commentary). Can't think of any other type of sporting event where major stars turning up in the crowd is not unusual. She later posed for photos with some of the fans.
I made my way to the finish line, and realised that there was a clear spot by the barrier right on the line. The gantry and it's support was in the way, but I had a pretty clear view of the road and all of the finish line so I stopped there and waited for the peleton to arrive. The commentary was pretty good over the pa, and knowing the roads in the area well I could visualise the race as it approached. After the last 'mountain' climb at Therfield Heath, the rain stared, leading to a few breaks and by the time they had got past Walkern and into Stevenage there were two riders with a small lead, but that did not last and they were all pretty much together as they approached the Old Town. However, the tight turns, wet roads meant that the last 2km was very challenging.
Where we were we were still relying on the commentary but the as they reached the turn into Walkern Road the blue lights of the Police bikes could be seen, followed by glimpses of helmets. All of a sudden they were coming up the high street and it was a case of standing on the barrier, firing the camera and trying to make sense of the finish as the first three crossed the line followed by several groups and stragglers over the next five minutes or so. Did not expect there to be such a spread and I think everyone was expecting a bunch sprint, but obviously the weather conditions took their toll.
About twenty minutes after the finish, we had the presentation, but due to the crowds it was a case of holding the camera above my head and firing blindly.
In the end I was glad I went to the High Street, despite the rain it was a great to be at such a big atmospheric event.