The first stage of the first Friends Life Women’s Tour of Britain got under way in Oundle this morning and, since the town is only 25 miles up the road, I had decided to have the day off work and ride over to the start. A few of the guys from the club were heading up a bit earlier, but I had offered to take my eldest to the school bus, so I had a later start and enjoyed a mostly solo ride over to Oundle (I did catch up with some other riders also heading over to watch).
I crossed the roundabout on the A605 and headed into Oundle, passing the Gorilla shop with an impressive display of bikes outside. I passed the Astana Team just before I reached the first of the road closures. The marshals waved me through and I followed a steady procession of people into the town centre. There, the teams were being presented to a respectably large and growing crowd. While I was watching, someone from Friends Life, the main sponsor for the Tour, walked over to me – he had noticed my kit and come over to say how much he’d enjoyed our club sportive last October and especially the feed stations!
I met the rest of the club opposite Beans cafe, and also saw several familiar faces from other local clubs. There were plenty of different club jerseys, along with many more people in cycling gear, but overall it seemed a curious crowd that had gathered to watch. Oundle is an affluent town. The surrounding countryside is classic rolling English, dotted with pretty stone villages. Interspersed with the MAMILs were polite teenagers from the town’s private school and respectable, well dressed ladies who probably do lunch, certainly bemused, but definitely with a new topic to discuss over a skinny latte and slice of Victoria sponge. Overall though, I had an impression of a town fully behind the Tour. All the shops had cycling themed window displays and were doing brisk business, especially if it involved cake and coffee. In the queue for a coffee, I had a chat with a well spoken local gent, he was thrilled to have the Tour in his home town; it was great to see such enthusiasm for the sport.
At 11am the riders set off through packed, cheering streets. They did a circuit around the town and then they were away. The crowds slipped away and the barriers were gathered up. The Tour machine prepared to depart and Oundle was once more a genteel market town and an ideal pit stop for exploring the Northamptonshire lanes.
We started our ride back home with some St Ives riders. After a cake stop at the Olive Tree garden centre the weather turned against us – the wind picked up and showers raked us, but we had seen a little bit of cycling history made, so I don’t think any of us minded a bit of rain.