Back in the early eighties there was an attempt to bring cycling to a wider British audience with a series of city centre crits (watch YouTube clips here). Sponsored by Kellogg’s, the races briefly made household names of its stars, and made cycling one of the most widely watched sports on TV. Fast and action packed, the races were easy for the public to follow and crowds several rows deep lined their local roads to cheer on this crazy spectacle.
Unfortunately the popularity of the series waned when the TV broadcasts were shunted to the outer limits of the scheduling, shown at midnight alongside other obscure and eccentric sports.
Last night with a very British brand of razzmatazz, the second year of the Tour Series – sponsored by Halfords – kicked off in Canary Wharf. Shivering in the shadows of skyscrapers and the faceless anonymity of corporate headquarters, thin crowds of thin spectators (with such little body fat, cyclists are not built for standing around in the cold) did their utmost to create an atmosphere of anticipation. A loud PA system boomed out pop music, underdressed cheerleaders jumped and waved pom-poms – in an attempt to stay warm as anything else.
Very few of the riders or teams introduced over the loudspeakers would be familiar to anyone not closely following the domestic scene; even British Road Race Champion Kristian House could probably dismount his bike and wander through the crowds without being bothered by onlookers. A man next to me wondered out loud that he hadn’t seen any Halfords riders yet, unaware that the team disbanded at the end of last year.
Yet there was still a fizz of excitement as the riders lined up for the start. The racing was clearly fast; the Irish team who had come across especially had two riders lose contact within the first couple of laps. The effort to cling on was evident by the many worried faces at the back of the bunch. Average speed was a frighteningly quick 54kmph.
No doubt this first round of the series will be hailed as a success; the TV footage is bound to be spectacular with riders whishing past a very modern backdrop. But the atmosphere was oddly lacking, though not because of the enthusiasm of the fans, or the excitement played out on the roads.
Canary Wharf lacks soul, it has no obvious local community to show out in support. Office workers moaned about making slight detours to the tube station; very few were tempted to stick around and check out the spectacle.
However I’m very sure the Tour Series will find the appreciative audiences it deserves over the coming weeks. The concept is exciting, the production is slick, and the racing is impressive.
• Round 1 of the Tour series will be broadcast tonight on ITV4 from 7pm, after which it should be available to watch on their website. Subsequent rounds will be televised the day after each event.