With the end of the cycling season in sight, the World Championships always have an electrifying quality. No matter the location, (or weather), the races are spectacular; they can be heartbreaking or they can be career defining. The World Championships in Yorkshire this year fit the bill.
The natural beauty of the Yorkshire Dales is truly something to behold and has earned it the nickname of “God’s own country” by the locals. But what really sets Yorkshire apart, what makes racing there so special, is the fans.
The elite men’s road race was set to be a grim affair: rain, rain, and more rain was in the forecast. But that didn’t stop the crowds from coming out. As the riders raced through the british countryside, tens of thousands of people applauded them. They had stood for hours in their Wellington boots and raincoats under umbrellas all around the circuit despite the downpour, and cheered every rider who had passed. They had cheered every policeman who had passed.
They were Brits mostly and had come with their thermoses of tea and sandwiches to Harrogate from every corner of the country. Many had been in the spa town all week to see the races, from the junior women to Sunday’s men’s road race. There were thousands earlier in the week. Now there were tens and tens of thousands — from all over the world too — flags draped over their waterproofs, speaking in shared languages, and bonding by sharing their knowledge of ‘each other’s’ riders.
As the race entered the harrogate circuit, the riders would pass through a shaft of singing and dancing Norwegians, Danes, and Dutchmen who had parked their campers on the long false flat over the top of the climb and set up party tents. They do the same every year. First, they go cycling together for a week, and then they go to worlds to drink beer. At every championships, they make new friends. The party only gets bigger. And the rain was in no way dampening their festivities.
A couple of hundred metres down the road, the Belgians were barbecuing sausages under an awning. They had a television set up with a live feed of the race and were inviting all comers to come and stand in the dry for a few minutes and see what was happening.
The chop chop of the helicopter would signal the race’s approach, followed by the ringing of bells, shouts, and chants of “USA, USA”, as the riders crested the climb, never louder than when Alex Howes first arrived over the top with the break—well, until Lawson Craddock launched his late-race attack. Everyone there would then run to the side of the road and cheer every single rider who passed, before racing back to try to get a better seat by the TV.
Mitch Docker got a huge cheer from the crowd when he came through off the back. So did Mike Woods when his legs gave out on him on the steepest pitch one of the last times up.
Colombians cheered him, and Ecuadorians cheered him. Estonians, Aussies, and Canadians cheered him. Dozens and dozens of Italians cheered him, but none more enthusiastically than the Brits.
A Dane won. As soon as the front group had passed the top of the final climb, hundreds of people crammed by the Belgians’ screen to watch the final kilometres. There were hums and haws, nervous chatter and the odd gasp, as everyone leant forward to get a better view. People started to jump up and down and shout to relieve the tension, as the riders started their sprint. A hush fell. There was a loud groan, and then two big Danes went running, yelling and screaming onto the road, waving their flags, and shouting over and over “world champion! world champion!”
People from all over the world walked out and gave the thrilled Danes hugs and shook their hands.
Cycling fans are the best.