Tour de France (Yorkshire)

July 10, 2014

Flying 15,000 km (over 9,300 miles) from Perth with my wife & two children, spanning 28 hours from leaving home to arriving in Sheffield, was no easy task! Getting up at 3am when the kids wanted to play was not much fun either. But the toot of the horn from my ride (fellow Fly6 co-inventor Kingsley Fiegert) at 8am on the Saturday of the first stage of the Tour de France sent adrenalin running through my veins. This was our first ever Tour de France…we were excited!

Having been introduced to the Tour de France by a neighbour of mine in 2008 over a bottle or two of red wine (the Tour is broadcast by the Australian government sponsored channel SBS and starts around 8:30PM in Perth, Western Australia), it didn’t take me long to be hooked on the colours, the drama, the scenery & the unmistakable and mesmerising voices of Phil Liggett & Paul Sherwin.

Kingsley had left Perth one day after me so was suffering from jet lag more than me but without the toddlers on the flight, managed enough sleep on the planes so that he seemed ready for Day 1 of the tour (much more ready than me!).

We arrived in Harrogate around 9:30AM having travelled from Sheffield (where we were staying). We had to park our car around 4-5kms (2-3 miles) from the finish line and walk there. We had pre-arranged media access through a contact so were very excited to see the Tour from the media side of things. After getting our media access cards, we proceeded to look around the media ‘camp’ where wall-to-wall semi-trailer trucks are squashed into a small open area behind the finish line. What was amazing to us was the amount of infrastructure – two storey pop up buildings, extendable sea containers, and mobile communication vans were everywhere. Walking around the enclosure soon highlighted the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to bring the Tour to TV screens all over the world in many different languages.  One notable sight was the amount of cables strewn across the ground….it was like someone had poured giant spaghetti all over the compound!

We were early but Harrogate was filling fast and the ‘other’ side of the finish line was buzzing with people eager to secure a prime position, official TDF crepes, and other goodies on offer. We managed to have a little browse through the town well before the TDF cyclists arrived.

During the race (which we kept tabs on via the screens that were displayed around the place) we managed to get a sneak peak into the commentary box. While we were there we could hear Phil Liggett & Paul Sherwin calling the race. It was amazing…in the booth right next door to us (as in, just an arms length away) we could hear the pair of them talking…from those many years ago watching the Tour de France for the first time, to now, being in the same area….wow…I was enthralled to say the least! We promptly turned our phones to silent…wouldn’t want the cycling world hearing me getting a text message!

The race started getting closer to the finish – commentators started calling the last 60kms and engaging the town. The support for Cavendish was nothing short of fanatical! Whenever the commentators mention “Cav” the crowd went….well, feral! Every now and then, the French commentator mentioned Kittel and the crowd boo’ed…this was a pro ‘Cav’ crowd and there was no doubting it!

Not long before the peloton arrived at Harrogate, the royals arrived! Phillip, Kate & Harry wanted to get in on the action and had a great spot not far from the finish line. With media passes we were allowed pretty close to them and got to snap off a few pics from our vantage point.

As the race drew closer the tension started rising and all thoughts seemed to be for ‘Cav’ winning the day in his mums home town but more than that, for Britain, who were right behind him. As the race leaders arrived, the tension was intense! What I seem to recall from the last 1 minute leading up to the finish was that the commentators said in their high pitched voices that ‘Cav’ had crashed…from that moment everything seemed to go in slow motion…sitting three arms length from the finish line…we watched in what seemed like slow motion, Kittel with arms raised, cruise past us over the line a winner. At the same time, it seemed that everyone else had their jaws open in shock that ‘Cav’ was not there, not winning and not bringing home the glory. It seemed a silence had descended over the crowd… disbelief was in the air. And then the stage was over…

We watched and waited…some minutes later ‘Cav’ passed slowly across the finish line…pain etched on his face and his arm gently cradled across his torso. For Yorkshire, the race was over and the hero welcome they wanted, another dream dashed. For us, it was years of watching the TDF on TV changing into the reality of the race itself – the first stage now, for the leader board at least, over.

But for Fly6, it was business time! We had people to meet and Fly6s to hand out! About 45 minutes after the race, we were invited to the main commentary box where we got to meet Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin. Phil is still a keen cyclist and was very excited to get a Fly6 to try out. For us, we were a little ‘star struck’. We had Phil Liggett telling us what a wonderful product Fly6 was and how he was excited to try it out!

What a day – met Phil Liggett, who by the way, loved Fly6! Seemed surreal that this person, this voice, this legend, had looked at Fly6 and loved it! The game had changed and Fly6 had arrived!

Day two of the TDF finished at Sheffield, the home-town of my wife. This day we got to see Phil & Paul a few times (I’d say we are ‘mates’ now!) and through Paul Sherwin, got to show the NBC’s newest commentator, Christian Vande Velde, our Fly6 device. Christian instantly understood the value of having a camera and cited a number of instances where motorists threw things at him and included being shot with a ‘BB gun’! Gladly accepting a Fly6 as a gift just before he was going into the NBC TDF booth, I got a sense that Christian was going to be a champion for Fly6 in America.

This was the last day for us at the Tour for 2014 and we had met a few of the personalities we (in Australia) are familiar with including the SBS crew of Mike Tomalaris, Matthew Keenan, Alex Hinds and others. It was amazing! The SBS crew thought a story on Fly6 would be of interest and wanted to support the safety story. A impromptu studio (the camera and two seats) were set up and Alex fired off the questions….he had heard of Fly6 already and seen many of the videos online with particular mention of our promotional vid.

With the interview over, we headed home feeling like a couple of star-struck groupies who had scored a backstage pass to the best concert of the year – one that we would never forget.
Two days of whirlwind action and all behind the scenes of the biggest annual sporting event on the planet! It was a blast but we were also happy to kick back with our families and let the race pass us by, knowing Fly6 was now on the radar of some of the biggest personalities in the cycling world.