A few weeks ago a big bike race started in Leeds.
My day started at 3:30, when I got up in order to make it to my check-in location (CIL) on time, because I was a volunteer. A blueshirt. A tourmaker. I’ll just say that again: 0330hrs, very much in the morning. It was very, very wet and I was planning on cycling to my CIL, so the expectation was that I’d be getting pretty soggy on the way, but it’d give me a chance to check out the waterproofing abilities of my uniform. The bright green jacket was ok but the bag was as waterproof as a cotton wool ball; everything got soaked in there. Still, I made it without getting completely drowned, or hit by traffic, so that was a plus.
The place I’d be stationed was somewhere on Scott Hall Road, but didn’t know exactly where or what I’d be doing; my job ended up being at a crossing point near Stainbeck Lane swapping between holding a piece of tape and blowing a whistle.
So me and my fellow tourmakers – Helen, Sarah, Paul and Phil – were to be crossing marshals for the day. We arrived at about 7, got some teas from a nearby caff and went on duty at about 7:30 after a briefing from our supervisor, Mike, and the sector manager, who we only saw once more during the day. The rain stopped, the sun came out, the crowds started arriving. I thought we’d be pretty slow because everybody would be watching the bike race at Scott Hall Fields – where there was a spectator hub – but was very wrong. People had already started to stake out spots when we arrived; we spent a lot of time giving advice on where a decent place to stand would be. A very nice lady offered us the use of her loo at any time, and brought us coffee and biscuits, which was a *lovely* gesture.
By the time the depart fictif was underway we’d had a couple of hundred cars, motorbikes, police outriders, cyclists who wanted a go on the route, the cadets and the publicity caravan. The police were amazing, by the way – they were in “good PR” mode – in chatting to the crowds, stopping, letting people take photos of their kids on the bikes and letting the kids press the siren buttons. Everyone was very friendly, but then the crowds had been there for a couple of hours and would applaud anything that came past. By this point I was blowing my whistle to open or close the crossing quite a lot, and then the route was closed as the bikes started their approach. We kept track of where the peloton was by following the helicopters. And they came, and went very quickly. I was roadside at the time so ducked down to allow people behind the barriers to see, and it was only afterwards that I realised what a stupid thing that was; the peloton expands to fill available space and I was quite well hidden, and could have been clipped. Heigh ho.
We were done by 12:15. The bikes had passed, the sun was cracking the flags, the crowds were dispersing quite quickly. The best bit was all the amateur cyclists coming up after the route had been reopened; because the roads would be closed for many, many hours afterwards to cars, the bikes and walkers could use it safely. Many wobbling MAMILs, some who’d obviously gone middle-age crisis on bike gear instead of sports cars, puffed their way up the hill towards us. Kids. Adults with kids. Bike groups. Some teenager on a rustbucket with underinflated tyres. It was awesome to see.
We walked back to the CIL when we realised the return bus wouldn’t be there for an hour and a half if we were lucky. We were lucky that we were so close to the CIL – only about 3 miles – as some poor souls in the middle of nowhere didn’t get picked up at all; their bus had vanished. As it was we had a nice walk back along a trafficless main road. Sheepscar Interchange had no traffic on it. I could have lindy hopped in the middle of the road if I’d had a dance partner. It was amazing. Once I’d picked up my bike I went for a ride along Regent St and the interchange and through town, reveling in the total lack of traffic and the pedestrians being amazing. Leeds needs more car-free days, I think.
Overall, I enjoyed what I did but it was over too quickly. It seems like a lot of faff for not much, in the end; unlike being a gamesmaker (and I wish I’d sorted myself out in time for Glasgow, to be honest) this was a bit of a single-use event. All that training, the uniform, the palaver, the 3am start… it was a lot of preamble. But still; fun. And that was the point.