While I was at the Tour of Britain in September, I realised just how important fans are to cycling. It’s easy, when watching on television, to dismiss the centrality of spectators, because you can still see the fantastic views and all the action. However, when you are at a race, you can really see how the energy passes from the roadside to the peloton itself, pushing people further, making the action all the more exciting. Almost every British rider I spoke to while at the Tour said how good it was to be racing in front of home fans; the presence of friends and families behind the barriers must inspire a great sense of pride in the riders lucky enough to pass near

(or near enough) their home. Stage 4, which passed through much of Wales, from south to north, saw countless banners paying tribute to Gruffudd Lewis, who made it into the break as the race left Aberaeron. On stage 7, more of the magical relationsh­ip between fan and rider was on display. As the five-man breakaway climbed a small rise into Edinburgh, a young boy, Xander Graham, kept pace with the group, momentaril­y pulling faster than the pros. After cresting the climb, Pascal Eenkhoorn passed a bottle to the young rider. The image was fantastic, and proof of how riders can inspire the next generation. It also flew in the face of the UCI’s now reversed rule on fining those who hand bottles to members of the public, as it clearly meant so much to Graham.

It is great to be back in any kind of crowd at the moment, but being back at the roadside of a bike race really gave me pause: one forgets the speed of these athletes as they pass. On stage 4, atop the Great Orme in Llandudno, the sight of some of the world’s best riders duelling it out and then collapsing just past the finish zone was an important reminder of just how human these riders are. We might not be able to put in the same calibre effort, but we can imagine being just as tired.

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