Cycling has been on the up in Exmouth for several years now, since the development of a cycling track alongside the railway track up the Exe estuary. The track has proved as popular as it is spectacular and cycling shops are springing up around the town to service this interest.
This rose to unprecedented heights today when the Tour of Britain finally came to Exmouth, with an exciting finish along the sea front.
Stage 5 was, for the first time, to be contained solely within Devon, starting in Exeter and finishing 110 miles later on Exmouth sea front, taking on much of Dartmoor in between.
Below: The programme also features the new cycle track, funded by a grant to Transcan. Keverel Lodge is tucked away below the near ridge just above the blue cyclist’s helmet.
Meanwhile, back on the seafront, crowds were building up all morning and by 1 o’clock were filling most of the best viewing spots alongside the final 200 m leading to the finishing line. A repechage match had been oprganised between teams of 4 riders from local primary schools. I was just in time to see, Otterton Primary School, my old school (I was HT there for 25 years), beat their larger neighbours, St. Peter’s, Budleigh Salterton. Otterton then went on to meet one of the town schools, Littleham, to decide 5th and 6th places, which Otterton won again – they always were good at cycling. Pleasingly, the whole match was won by Otterton’s twin village school, Drake’s School, East Budleigh who beat Withycome Raleigh.
The compere/announcer did an excellent job for nearly 2 hours whipping the crowd up into a state of great excitement and anticipation, with occasional reports from Hugh Porter, the Channel 4 presenter, on how near the race was getting, who was in the lead and how far ahead of the peleton etc. Yet at the last minute, no announcement was made about the fact that they were actually heading at 30 mph along the promenade. There was no sound of cheers from the crowds further along the sea front, no clues - and then suddenly they were whizzing past us, heading for the line in near silence, compared to what had gone on earlier. Everyone was taken by complete surprise, and within seconds it was all over. A friend of mine was positioned just across the road from me and told me later that as the finish was drawing near, he spotted the helicopter circling high above the sea front and guessed the riders should be very close. When he looked down they had just whizzed past and the race was already over.
There was excellent coverage on TV in the evening, with every metre of the final 6k shown. It was clear that in the final 200m Mark Cavendish held back a little allowing his team-mate to come in first while he was happy to take 2nd on this occasion.
Not that Cavendish needed to worry – he won the final two stages, and a few days later became World Road Race Champion in Copenhagen – the first time a Brit has won it since Tommy Simpson in 1965. He returned to newspaper headlines such as “Cavendish Joins The Greats“; “Cavendish Untouchable as he Strikes Gold” and “We should accept that here is a very great Briton indeed”.
It was great to have been a little part of that in Exmouth that afternoon