• Recently, for the second time in two years, I found myself lining up on the line at the Women’s Tour of Britain cycling road race to ride a ceremonial lap of the course ahead of the pros. Nothing makes a grown man feel pro like the presence of school children waving home made flags at the side of the road. Part of me wasn’t sure if I was participating in a cycling event or going off to war.

    I’m not sure who they thought we were or what we were doing; it occurred to me that they must have thought we were much more masculine and a lot slower than the cyclists they were expecting to see, something they probably attributed to our enthusiastic over-consumption of testosterone and human growth hormone in the pursuit of marginal gains.

    By the time we got to Newnham Hill, Daventry’s answer to Alpe D’Huez we found the race organisers still setting up the barriers. At that point it was a bit quiet and could have done with a few hundred drunken Belgians to liven up proceedings (what couldn’t!). Disappointingly (although in hindsight completely predictably) there was a complete absence of catering at the top. No Beer or Frites. Certainly no coffee and cake. Not even a mug of instant and a digestive. Cursing the entrepreneurial shortcomings of Daventry’s mobile food businesses I briefly debated a quick ride home to return with as many ice creams and flapjacks I could lay my hands on but after “making the calculations”, Sean Kelly style, I decided any trip would necessitate a second ascent of Newnham Hill – equalling the number of times the pro’s would tackle it, not a situation I was willing to enter into lightly. Or at all.

    Newnham Hill is a short, ugly climb with a nasty reputation. They say all hills have a personality. Well if that’s true Newnham is the Vinnie Jones of hill climbs. It practically screams “come and have a go if you think your hard enough”, it’s willing to give your bollocks a squeeze halfway up when your crying and the referee is looking the other way. Whilst i’ve never wished to see anyone suffering in public before, a million and one cycling clips of one pro after the other gurning their way up a climb, their face contorted into a hideous mask of pain whilst being overtaken by a fan dressed as a dinosaur had undoubtedly brought out the bloodlust in me and so I sought out a particularly nasty part of the climb to ensure maximum value for money.

    If you’ve never been to a cycling race there’s a common pattern to how proceedings unfold:

    1. A lone motorbike rider cuts through the crowd. No-one’s quite sure who they are or what it signifies but the excitement generated is palpable.
    2. Nothing now happens for at least half an hour. During this time literally nothing will happen apart from one cycling mate will turn up who you will fail to recognise because you’ve never seen them without the lycra, helmet and glasses. Spend the next 20 minutes engaging in p
    olite conversation whilst racking your brain trying to figure out who they are.
    3. Thirty minutes in and a car now appears whilst a megaphone on the roof informs you that the riders are currently in a village you’ve never heard of and proceeds to thank all 37 sponsors whose generosity has made today’s race possible.
    4. A flurry of excitement as everyone points to a bit of traffic in a road/field on the horizon and speculates whether that’s the Peloton or not.
    5. Nothing happens for 10 minutes. Begin to consider whether you have time to ride somewhere for a coffee and come back.
    6. Motorbikes! First the Police outriders riding head to ensure the road is closed swiftly followed by the first TV camera/medical/photographer bikes.
    7. They’re here! And they’re going much quicker than you could have imagined. They are suffering though, the pain is etched on their faces, proving Greg LeMond’s assertion that it never gets easier, you just go faster. Protocol dictates at this point that you run as close as you can next to a rider, so they can smell the coffee on your breath whilst you shout “Allez!” preferably whilst also ringing a cowbell. If you’ve spotted a rider with a chequered history of doping (shouldn’t be hard) then you may want to treat them to a faceful of urine. This being Britain however we restricted ourselves to some polite applause and occasional shouts of “well done” at no-one in part
    icular.

    As the last of the riders passed by, they were followed by the start of the team cars. Despite the fact you’re watching a professional bike race with around a hundred riders in it at least one person will marvel at the number of spare bikes on the team cars.

    “Have you ever seen that many bikes before?”

    “Yes, at the last race I watched”.

    Time to go and get that coffee.