For a British rider, racing the Tour of Britain is always great. There is a familiarity, an ease almost, you get when racing at home that you just can’t find anywhere else, no matter how well, or how far you go to adopt another country as your homeland.
Growing up in the UK as a racing cyclist, until very recently, meant that from an early age all eyes had to be focused on other countries. The races here meant nothing. Europe was where the teams were, it was where the riders were, and it was where the races all happened. Your whole concept of racing bikes was based on a European dream. It might well have been a dream that you loved, but it is one that you could never know as well as the people who really truly belonged there.
The real difference was that the European guys don’t start by seeing the roads of the Tour of Flanders or the Tour of Lombardy as part of a race; they start by seeing them as a route to school, or the best way to a friend’s house. Those races, the roads and the landscape are simply part of those riders.
For the British rider racing abroad, those places couldn’t exist without cycling; you’d arrive on a foreign shore and see the world through the eyes of a bike rider and you can only ever understand so much when you only have one angle to look from.
It gives the home riders, the Europeans who own the rights to all the really big races, an advantage that no amount of wind tunnels can replicate, and no amount of GPS files can account for. It allows them to understand the area they are racing in so intrinsically that they always have the upper hand.
The same is true for the British riders when the pro peloton comes to them. The tables are turned at the Tour of Britain, and it makes for one occasion in the year when you really feel at home, and you start to see things the way the Italians do at the Giro, or the French do at the Tour.
It’s not just where the road is going to go, or when climbs might arrive. It is knowing that the weather is about to change, or that there will be parked cars in the next town. It is about knowing how heavy the road surface in the country is, and how hard you can hit it. It is about understanding Dartmoor and how tight a squeeze it’ll be through the lanes of Devon or Somerset. It’s about knowing where the topof Haytor is…
You understand your roads like no one else because you’ve lived on them. Every road sign, every mile marker, and each painted line – all markings that make clear and perfect sense.
And yet it goes further still, a bike race isn’t just about the four hours of the day you spend racing from one line to the next. It also includes the logistics of getting from one place to another, eating dinner, finding your way around another hotel, and getting some rest.
Knowing where you are, knowing that you don’t have to think twice when you check in, or go to ask how the Wi-Fi works, nor not having to worry about the roaming charges on your mobile phone, makes the whole thing so much easier.
There are the fans too. The fans here are your friends, people you know and who know you. Having a few people from your club come to the start to wish you luck is a thousand times better than the experience of having a demanding autograph hunter thrust six pictures of you in your face and saying “SIGN!”
I used to think that being a British rider at the Tour of Britain was like having the party at your house instead of going to a party at friends: You could enjoy the plaudits for being the host. But it’s not; it is better than that, because when the party is at your place you always have that worry that someone is defacing a painting, or defecating in the garden.
There is none of that stress when the Tour comes to your country. There is no worry that the place will get trashed, because fortunately you know that someone else has it all in hand, and you can just enjoy the rare privilege of racing at home.