DESPITE weeks of warnings about road closures, nose-to-tail traffic and long delays for anyone attempting to get into Swaledale from Richmond, getting to Reeth on Saturday proved to be relaxed and easy.
It was also surprising to see that many campsites along the way were not as full as I had expected them to be – however as we drew nearer the route it was obvious that farmers renting space for cars and tents had done very well.
The morning had started out cool and cloudy after a night of heavy rain, and while we were not alone in travelling to Reeth by bike, the road at 8am was quiet with only a slow stream of cars passing us before the road closure.
Loading article content
But in Grinton we were met with the welcome smell of sausages and bacon, with the Bridge Inn doing a roaring trade by catching hungry cyclists descending on the village, and drawing nearby campers from their tents.
We pushed on to Reeth, which already had a dedicated few dozen scoping out the best viewing points, and we too did a circuit of the village before giving in to the smell of bacon sandwiches.
Several pubs, guesthouses, cafes and shops had set up stalls outside to encourage custom and seemed well prepared for the expected onslaught of locals and tourists alike, and buildings surrounding the village green were festooned with bunting, bicycles and banners welcoming the tour.
Crowds started to grow from lunchtime onwards, when the sun came out, the wind started to drop, and we were entertained by an accordionist who played an eclectic mix of French numbers, 1940s wartime classics, and hits from the Beatles and Johnny Cash – it seemed an odd choice at first but it added to the building festival atmosphere on the green.
Although the edge of the route was filling up with cycling fans on garden chairs and picnic blankets, initially there did not seem to be the number many had anticipated, with one spectator wondering if some had been put off because of the warnings about road closures.
However, it is likely that the die-hard among the cycling community would head to spots such as the Buttertubs, or Grinton Moor – where because of the narrow road, steep climb and hairpin bends, spectators would have longer to see their heroes sweating it out for the Polka Dot jersey.
Anticipation grew as North Yorkshire Police on motorbikes descended into Reeth, clearly enjoying themselves and giving high-fives to people gathered at the roadside, prompting huge cheers.
The publicity vehicles that followed were given rapturous applause, cheers and waves – and children and adults alike scrambled for unknown freebie items – but the only ones worth fighting for were the Haribo sweets.
Another wait followed but this time the air held excited electricity, and every lagging support car that passed caused everyone to jump back up to wave and cheer.
And then – almost unexpectedly – the first rider streamed passed to an enormous roar of support.
We later learned it was 42-year-old German Jens Voigt who went on to claim the King of the Mountain title for stage one.
The peloton swiftly followed, to equally thunderous cheers from an excited crowd, and the rest of the pack arrived soon after and it was all over in what seemed like seconds.
A long wait for a short bout of excitement – but everyone agreed it was more than worth it to witness what had been a once in a lifetime chance for the Dales.
As Rebecca Brown, 11, from Middleton Tyas said: “I had no idea what to expect but as soon as the support vehicles arrived it was really exciting. It was an absolutely brilliant day – I want to go again tomorrow.”