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Kay Atwal, Chief Reporter
Monday, July 7, 2014
Thousands of committed cycling fans joined lucky residents and shoppers to pack the streets of Newham and watch a slice of history in the making as the world’s elite riders arrived in the borough.
Many arrived early, eager to stake a claim on the best place to witness the third leg of the Tour de France as the 197 riders made their way to central London. Others headed to the fun park at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park which had a large screen TV that gave everyone a chance to soak up the distinctly carnival atmosphere reminiscent of the London 2012 Olympics.
Like the Olympics, there were colourfully attired volunteers, known as Tour Makers, on hand to give directions as well as provide regular updates on the progress of the riders. An indication of the size of the organisational task was reflected in the fact that 10,000 volunteers were involved in the first three stages of the race which has only started in Britain for the second time.
Among those who waited patiently for more than six hours there was a clear divide between the die-hard cycling fans who knew all the riders, their teams and the relevance of the different jerseys and those who decided to see what all the fuss was about. Many shoppers decided to end the day‘s retail therapy by watching the race while keeping a close eye on their purchases.
The excitement, which was palpable early in the morning, was clearly written across every face. As the afternoon wore on there an almost collective holding of breath by the crowd, 10 deep in some places, as they strained to catch any signs of activity that could herald the arrival of the peloton.
Even the occasional showers failed to dampen the excitement which erupted into wild cheering and shouting as two lone riders made their way up Westfield Avenue before disappearing into Montfichet Road.
They were quickly followed by the remaining riders who cleared the corner in less than two minutes. And before we knew it, the hours of patient waiting were over in the blink of an eye and the gathered crowds went their separate ways; the shoppers headed home, the fans went in search of much needed coffee while the office workers compared photos.