For the third year in a row the Ovo Energy Tour Series rocked up in Aberdeen and once again the sun was shining (not to be confused with warm conditions though) and I decided to cycle down to watch the elite men’s road race.
The route this year had been updated to include the newly developed Broad Street area with Marischal College providing an excellent backdrop to the racing, particularly as the sun began to set behind. The short route can be seen in the map and I think this is an improved circuit to the previous years particularly for the fans watching and the traffic that is not interested in the cycling since on streets that are more or less pedestrianized anyway.
The riders and the backdrop of Marischal College.
This kind of short circuit route means that as a spectator you see plenty of the action as the riders go past every minute or so. Obviously the corners are the busiest spots as the riders slow down and then accelerate back up to speed.
By the time I cycled into town the race was underway and I just cycled slowly around the perimeter to take in the atmosphere and find a good place to watch the race.
Good crowds gathered at the corners to cheer on the riders.
Most of watch cycling on TV and this is obviously great for following all the action but for me there is one thing that the TV coverage does not convey well; the sound of the peloton. We might imagine that the only noise is the smooth changing of gears and the hypnotic whirr of a freehub. Watching a race live though, particularly a circuit race like this, opens your ears to all sorts of different sounds. There is the unmistakable sound of beautiful ceramic bearings as they glide across the tarmac. There is the sound of the air straining to make way for the riders. And there is the sound of the riders themselves as they shout at each other, sometimes just to let each other know where they are and sometimes to berate a rider for not pulling on the front or for pulling too hard.
This is bruising racing as the riders have to constantly accelerate out of the corners and these sorts of efforts take their toll and whittle down the riders until only the strongest remain to fight for victory. As a lightweight cyclist this is the type of cycling I admire from afar but would not want to be involved in. Plus I corner like a granny.
The crowds were decent and there was a good mixture of people who follow the sport and people obviously watching it for the first time but enjoying the racing and the atmosphere. Particularly pleasing was the number of kids out watching it and hopefully getting inspired to get on the bike. If my sons were not in bed by this time I would have taken them for a few hours of free entertainment. There were also people just going about their business in town and shocked to discover a bike race blocking their way. Most would take an interest for a few minutes and walk on.
I am glad that Aberdeen sees the value in bringing such events to the city to liven up a Thursday night. And that is the point. Build it and they will come. The cafes that lined the route were that little bit busier and all because of a bike race. It got people out of their living rooms and offered a spectacle for free. It might even have encouraged some people onto the bike. It might even show Aberdeen City Council that an investment in cycling and safe cycling routes for all would have massive appeal.
Given the crowds, my main criticism is that an opportunity was missed to provide some more street-side entertainment and some places for coffee or even a beer. It would have been nice to see some of the local businesses around the route open their doors a little wider to take advantage of the crowds.
It was however nice to see the local cycling clubs given some space around the race to attract some new members. It is rather terrifying but I have heard it said that cycling is the new golf. This is terrifying because, as someone who used to play golf, cycling has to be more inclusive, more diverse and more welcoming.
The highlight of my evening was without doubt meeting Katie Archibald, Olympic gold medalist and genuine Scottish cycling legend. Having raced earlier in the evening I happened to cycle passed her as she watched the men’s race. I am not good with meeting famous people and especially those that I have a lot of respect for. I nervously cycled over and told here that she is an absolute legend, that I enjoyed her column in Cycling Weekly and generally made a complete arse of myself. She was of course totally gracious and witty and confirmed her status as an idiosyncratic cycling legend in my mind.
It is not everyday that you get to shake hands with a genuine cycling hero but I was alas too self-conscious to ask for a selfie. She doesn’t seem the sort to approve of that sort of behaviour.
At the end of the race (won incidentally by Alex Paton of canyondhbbloor) I cycled home just that little bit faster having been inspired by the pro’s and their commitment. I excitedly told my partner that I had met Katie Archibald and received an unimpressed shrug of the shoulders in return. This summed up the life of a dedicated cycling fan.
As a footnote to the experience I would also like to congratulate Team Metrol for winning the corporate race earlier in the day. I have recently joined the company and from the dedication and practice that I saw, this was well deserved.
Me tempted to cycle onto the race. I am sure that they would never notice.