Sir Bradley Wiggins must have woken up this morning wondering whether making his comeback in the Tour of Britain was a good plan.
The weather was appalling.
I was also thinking it was a bad idea when I got up at 6am to chase the Tour from Peebles, the first stage of this year’s race.
The rain was lashing down, the wind was gale-force and the thermometer had dropped to well below the temperatures we’ve become accustomed to this summer in the UK.
It was bleak and miserable – and the conditions were getting worse by the minute.
After packing waterproofs and outdoor kit that wouldn’t have looked amiss on Nanook of the Arctic, I decided to give it my best shot.
My partner Tony looked like he was going on another trip to the Cairngorms in winter.
Setting the stage
Normally, our plan would be to get to the start of the race to soak up the race atmosphere, watch the riders checking in and rub shoulders with cycling’s top stars as they emerged from their team buses.
But the weather was so bad that we had a change of plan. Today we headed for the big climb at Lime Kiln Bank between Peebles and Newcastleton.
We were the first camper van at the category 2 climb so grabbed the best spot with a panoramic view across the valley and a close-up view of the tricky hilly section that would test the cyclists in the rain.
Then it was time to hunker down for an hour or two, drinking strong coffee and enjoying the warmth of the van before the top riders arrived.
Tammy – sorry to admit this – had to have a sleep before the leaders and the peloton hit the hill.
After two hours, we were joined by dozens of cars and cycling fans which surprised me, given the worsening weather.
It was bleak and murky on this beautiful but exposed hillside in the Scottish Borders. Apart from the cycling fans there were few signs of life or activity.
Endless motorbikes and team cars added to the atmosphere as they sped ahead of the bike riders who grew ever closer.
We could just about see the leading contenders in the mist over the far side of the hills.
The only problem with picking a spot halfway through a race stage is that it’s tricky to work out what time the riders will arrive. All that we knew was that they were behind schedule as a result of the bad weather.
A helpful motorbike rider told us that they were on they way – soon – but it was slow going.
The cyclists seemed to disappear for ages, no doubt battling cross winds and drenching rain, before emerging at the bottom of the climb.
Normally the whirring sound of helicopters heralds the arrival of the race leaders but the bad weather meant that there were no copters flying today so we stood our ground soaking up the rain (if not the atmosphere).
Finally the race lead-out car emerged together with a breakaway group of five riders – it was show time!
The small but very wet group were 4 minutes 45 seconds ahead of the main peloton, quite an achievement in the tough conditions.
One false move on this skiddy surface and everyone would have hit the deck like a stack of dominoes.
In the mist and gloom, it was hard to make out who was who, especially as my glasses had steamed up so badly that I could barely see a thing.
A rider in black and red led the way over the top although it was impossible to make out his name or number.
Studying the photograph in the van, it appeared to be Britain’s Kristian House leading the way followed by Christophe Laborie, Aaron Gate and the IG Sigma Sport pair of Peter Hawkins and Ben Greenwood.
It was wet, wet, wet – and the riders were getting a soaking.
No wonder British-born Kristian House was dealing with the conditions like it was water off a duck’s back; he went on to win the climb a few hundred metres up the road.
They sped past looking very wet and miserable, disappearing over the top of the hill in a flash.
It always amazes me how fast these guys are when you watch them racing uphill in the worst of road conditions.
A few minutes later the main peloton grew closer so we repositioned ourselves on the other side of the hill climb.
Cheers went up as everyone spotted Team Sky riding majestically in a pack with Sir Bradley Wiggins tucked into the bunch.
I was really thrilled when I spotted Wiggo and even managed to grab a quick snap of him with our camper van in the background (see below).
It made my day even though the whole experience lasted barely six minutes!
The peloton zipped by so quickly that it was impossible to make out any other big names like Mark Cavendish in the larger group.
Once again, the cyclists looked very downcast and drenched with several wearing poncho-like cagoules to keep the incessant downpour off their finely-tuned bodies.
The race was still in its early stage so no shape had emerged although later we heard that Wiggins was controlling much of the race in the peloton.
One of the disadvantages of watching the middle section of any stage is that there’s very little information about who’s who or what’s happening.
Being on a remote section, there wasn’t even any wifi or mobile symbol so we couldn’t check the rolling commentary on any of the sports websites with coverage of the race.
One thing we did manage to work out was that this guy in green and white (see photo below) with fetching lycra leggings was the last man in the race!
Tour of dreams?
So how was the race for me?
Watching a hillside stage is quite interesting but it lacks the intimacy and buzz of an opening launch or the climactic excitement of a sprint finish.
Part of me still wishes we’d gone to Peebles for the opening of the stage – partly because I wanted my free Tour of Britain mug!
But the hill stage did have the up-side that you got very close to the riders as they whizzed past – often at incredible speeds. It was like them and us against the elements.
One of the weird things about watching a middle stage is when you catch the highlights on ITV’s excellent TV show later that evening.
When presenter Ned Boulting mentioned the climb, we reckoned that we’d see our section of the race in the live TV footage, but we were wrong.
The lack of helicopter coverage meant that the only live footage was at the summit of the climb, won by Kristian House.
The race coverage leapt about 50 miles to the final stages – and the climax of the Tour’s stage 1 – when the weather looked a lot better than when we were watching the race.
Later, we heard that British cycling star Mark Cavendish narrowly missed out in the race’s sprint finish at Drumlanrig Castle to Cannondale’s Elia Viviani and team-mate Alessandro Pettachi who took second.
On watching the TV version, we found that Cav had been boxed in during the race for the line. But I’m sure he’ll more than compensate in the next stages of the race.
You can’t keep Mark Cavendish down for long.
There’s still a long way to go in this year’s Tour of Britain – I’ll be glued to the TV coverage for the next week as the race hots up and heads towards the Lake District, Wales, Dartmoor and London.
But I wonder what Sir Bradley is thinking about today’s race this evening? He won a few points, got soaked to the skin and kept the pace under control.
It’s all in a day’s work for a professional cyclist.
As for us, we’re still drying out and our kit is hanging up around the house. I guess the pro-cyclists have someone to sort that drying process for them.
Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to an increasingly competitive Tour of Britain as it gathers pace….