The best laid plans...
Photographer Jojo Harper finds out it’s not all plain sailing as she attempts to cover the final three stages of this year’s Tour of Britain.
It’s 0430 on Friday, 11 September, my camera bag’s packed and I’m ready to go. My driver is Pelican Hepworth, the girlfriend of One Pro cycling’s George Harper. Our plan: to cover the last three stages of the Tour Of Britain 2015.
STOKE ON TRENT TO NOTTINGHAM: STAGE 6
After three hours of driving we arrived. I picked up my media bib and was ready to go. Realistically I didn’t have enough time to do the rounds of all the teams. I only really had time to focus on two: One Pro Cycling and Condor JLT.
Ed Clancy, Kristian House and Graham Briggs were all warming up beside their brand new team bus. They were surrounded by school children wanting autographs and pictures. It was wonderful to see the kids’ enthusiasm and how good the riders were with them.
I’d hoped to be in a team car. Although I might not have seen much it’s always better to be within earshot of the team radio. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible so Pelican and I had to find our own way.
After studying the map we decided to cover the two toughest climbs, starting with Morridge Top. We stood at the summit waiting to capture the riders as they passed after 450m of climbing. At this stage there was a small breakaway with the main bunch about four minutes behind.
After the peloton had passed we ran back to the car and headed for the final climb, Cromford Hill. We were following the race on Twitter so we were aware that there was now a huge gap between the breakaway and the main bunch. By the time the leaders got to us there was a 28-minute gap.
We had to decide whether to wait for the main bunch to come through or to jump in the car to catch the finish. We decided to wait. Surprisingly, perhaps, the crowds did too.
We’d hoped to get to the finish in time to see the main bunch come in but we missed them by about an hour thanks to some dreadful traffic heading towards Nottingham. We ended up parking on the outskirts of the city and running the final 4km! We got there just in time to watch the teams pack up and head off to the start of stage 7 at Fakenham.
FAKENHAM TO IPSWICH: STAGE 7
After a very short night’s sleep in a lovely B&B in King’s Lynn, we headed off to meet the teams at Fakenham racecourse. After the previous day’s experience we wanted to make sure we got there early – and we did! We had to wait for the teams. It was a bleak day, dark and drizzly. The stage ahead was 140 miles, flat, and into a strong headwind.
After picking up a media sticker for our car, we spoke to other photographers who planned to stop in four places and still get to the finish in time. But after the previous day’s experience we wanted to play it safe so we decided to make our way to the two feed stations. Unfortunately, our plans went awry as we got very, very lost. Eventually we found the route again and waited outside a pub with a large crowd about five miles outside Norwich.
The race came through with three in a break away, including Condor JLT’S Graham Briggs. They were working well together and had a couple of minutes on the peloton.
From here we set off to the finish, an hour and a half’s drive away. We got there in plenty of time and headed off for some much needed food, which we ate while watching the race on the big screen at the finish.
The crowds and the excitement were building steadily during the closing stages of the race and One Pro Cycling’s Steve Benton very kindly explained to us the ongoing battle between Madison Genesis and One Pro cycling for the KOM jersey. Steve was very happy as One Pro came together as a team allowing Pete Williams to secure the jersey.
I found my spot near the finish for the victory celebrations. I was hoping for a shot of hands thrown in the air but I didn’t get it because the finish was incredibly close – they were pushing right through the line. Andrea Greipel won, just!
THE LONDON STAGE-STAGE 8
The final stage comprised 14 laps of a 6.2km circuit around the streets of central London. This wasn’t quite the logistical nightmare that the previous two stages had been. I had managed to walk the whole course prior to the start and decided to place myself on Haymarket near the One Pro party.
In the hectic and confusing hours that followed I gathered that a lot of riders dropped out, there were a couple of crashes and Greipel won the sprint – although he was later relegated, giving victory to Sky’s Elia Viviani. Boasson Hagen held onto his lead to win the Tour overall.
My aim was to get the finish but I got stuck the wrong side of the course with a very angry crowd and a very stubborn marshal refusing to let anyone cross. I managed to get to the team buses in time for the warm down. It was the end of a tough eight days but the atmosphere was buzzing and the riders clearly relieved it was all over.
I have covered the Tour of Britain twice before but never more than one stage. I was with Team Sky last year and Rapha Condor Jlt the year before. I’d been driven around so all I had to focus on was taking photos. This year was definitely trickier - focusing on logistics distracted me from taking photos. So professionally it was a little frustrating but as a cycling fan I had an amazing time. It was a mini adventure that I am determined to repeat one day.