It came and went in the flash of an eye but it would appear the Tour de France has left a lasting impact on Essex. An estimated one million people lined the streets on Monday to welcome the riders to our county, but now the streets have been cleaned and re-opened and life has got back to normal, what effect with the Tour have on cycling in our county. FRAZER CLARK and PAUL ALTON investigate.
COULD SOUTHEND GET ITS OWN VELODROME?
A SOUTHEND councillor is hoping interest in the Tour De France might lead to the town getting its own velodrome.
Adam Jones saw the tour race through Essex at Roxwell on Monday and now harbours plans to capitalise on the interest shown in cycling this week.
His dream for a open air concrete velodrome is very much in its infancy but the Conservative councillor for St Lawrence ward is planning to strike while the iron is hot.
“I was completely taken aback by the experience of the Tour de France,” said Jones, who was a keen club cyclist in his youth.
“I was talking to people who knew nothing about cycling through to members of Essex Roads and Southend Wheelers cycling clubs and everyone was so positive about it.
“But cycling is not all about road racing and the likes of Bradley Wiggins and Geraint Thomas have come from track cycling.
“That made me think about the possibility of building a velodrome in Southend because it could host a variety of events such as pursuits and sprints, and I think it would create more enthusiasm for cycling.”
Jones, who lives in Barling Magna, is planning to speak to council officers about the possibility of setting up the track and has already identified the former Ekco site or Garon Park as possible sites for the velodrome.
He also believes that the track could be built for between £1m and £1.5m, with some funding coming from sporting bodies.
Jones said the facility could be build at ground level to minimise the impact on the surrounding area and would produce little noise other than spectators cheering.
And the councillor says a velodrome could boost cycling and the town in the way that the Olympic mountain biking course at Hadleigh and the diving centre at Garon Park have done.
“I want to capitalise on the enthusiasm and passion created by the Tour de France,” Jones added.
“Something like a velodrome would not only boost the sport but would have a positive impact on people’s health too.”
Jones was first inspired by watching the Tour de France on television when he was a teenager.
He joined Carmarthen Wheelers Cycling Club while at university and used the velodrome in the Welsh town. He later competed in time trials and hill climbs.
The Tour de France goes through Finchingfield
LOTS OF PEOPLE WILL NOW BE DIGGING OUT THEIR BIKES
SOUTHEND Wheelers’ Chris Smith, 51, believes the legacy of the Tour de France’s Essex stage is there to be taken by grassroots cycling clubs throughout the county.
The keen rider and coach – who watched the Tour on Monday from a favourite spot between Roxwell and Willingale – said the Tour would spur people into action.
“I think the effect will be that there will be lots of people digging their bikes out of the garden shed or garage and riding again.
“When you saw the crowds or even watched it on TV, you saw the interest and the enthusiasm for the sport and the riders.
“Cycling has changed a great deal over the last 10 or so years and this is partly responsible for more people getting back on the saddle.
“Car drivers are much more considerate these days because so many more people do it and, although people are still concerned about potholes and traffic, I think this is improving.”
Smith said that his introduction came as a 14-year-old but he felt the sport had given him plenty back in the way of great friends, a healthy hobby, foreign trips and now the opportunity to coach others.
He said: “The Wheelers used to be a traditional road racing club but, like most clubs we’ve changed a lot over the years.
“The name of the game now is to intice people into cycling and at our recent road racing championships we had, as well as the mens, ladies and youths section, a section for all-comers.
“We held it at the Cyclopark in Kent and there were 20 to 25 all-comers which is about getting people to feel happier and make the sport less daunting.
“Sportif events such as the London to Southend ride are another way of building up grassroots strength. It’s because, in these events, the competition is against yourself – rather than others.
“The Tour de France’s Essex leg was just crammed with cyclists of all standards watching and cheering.
“The British Olympic success on the bikes has helped too, and although it’s a shame that Mark Cavendish went out so early – there is still Chris Froome. It would be nice if the Sky team could continue their success.”
Southend Wheelers have moved to attract people into the sport with user-friendly runs from Canewdon village hall some Sunday mornings at 10am, and many of the people coming into the sport were aged between 20 and 30, while the club has also seen an increase in the number of women riding.
IT'S NOW UP TO CYCLING CLUBS TO TAKE UP THE REINS
ESSEX Roads club stalwart Chris Bodell travelled to Yorkshire for the Tour de France Grand Depart, and even rode the first stage the day before the race proper.
And the 42-year-old from Brentwood believes the first three stages will leave an indelible mark on the sport in this country.
His own experience of the Tour will remain with him forever.
He said: “I went up to Yorkshire on Thursday night and rode the first stage on Friday as part of a charity event for the Orchid charity which raises money towards testicular cancer.”
And the experienced rider, who has done Pyrenees stages in France before, said he was used to doing plenty of mileage and found the distance within his capability.
“My time was six hours and five minutes – which is averaging 18 miles an hour, so I was happy with that.
“What made life difficult was the weather changes out on the route.
“Seeing the Tour itself go past the next day was brilliant.
“Now millions have seen the Tour at first hand it’s up to the clubs to make sure that people convert this interest into participation.
“I think that the Essex Roads club – which started out as a road racing club and then progressed into time trials, Sunday rides and a youth section – is doing well at attracting new people.
“The Tour, along with the Olympics has had a big effect on cycling. We’re moving in the direction of sportifs which brings people in,” he added.
A so-called Spring Lamb sportif event – attracting a massive 650 people – and an Autumn Leaves sportif brought in 100 newcomers to the club at Barleylands.
“We don’t have a clubhouse, but we run time trials from East Hanningfield village hall and in the winter there are turbo training sessions from the Scout hut at Greens Farm Lane in Billericay,” said Boddell. “We regularly get 50-60 people doing rides starting behind Iceland in Billericay.”
Bodell said rider leaders helped newcomers develop cycling road sense and etiquette, plus there was interest within the club in other aspects of cycling including cyclo-cross and even cycle speedway.