South Scotland

My damp day with the Tour of Britain

Whitesands in Dumfries
Image caption Good crowds turned out along the route despite poor weather conditions

Imagine pulling back your curtains and seeing Wayne Rooney and Andres Iniesta doing keepie-uppies in your back garden.

That is probably never going to happen, but cycling enthusiasts in southern Scotland got their equivalent on Sunday.

The Tour of Britain rolled into the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway with a big name cast.

Few come with a greater reputation than the Manx missile - super-sprinter Mark Cavendish - but he was supported by some other members of the sport's elite.

Reigning road race world champion Thor Hushovd, Olympic gold medallist Geraint Thomas and former world Cyclo-Cross champion Lars Boom were among the field.

The last of these might have been best prepared for what southern Scotland had to throw at them.

Image caption The Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway were the backdrop to the opening stage

It was a typically miserable late-summer, early autumn, is-this-winter-already kind of day.

Yet it did not stop decent crowds from turning out at the start and finish of the event as well as along its route.

That says something about the growing popularity of the sport in the UK.

With their successes in the big road races, major Tours and Olympics, British cyclists are raising its reputation all the time.

Cavendish himself commented on a major change in the public response compared with his last outing in the Tour of Britain a few years ago.

But it sure took some dedication to watch the event.

The crowd on the Whitesands in Dumfries, where I took up my viewing point, looked damp and bedraggled by lunchtime.

Some smart spectators had sought shelter beneath the awnings of a nearby bank but for the rest it was a case of making the best use possible of umbrellas, hats and other assorted wet-weather gear.

The head-winds slowed the progress of the cyclists only adding to our endurance efforts.

It had been hoped they would reach the town a little sooner but the inclement conditions meant there was a little more standing around to do.

Image caption Mark Cavendish delivered what many fans had come out to see - a sprint finish victory

Yet the crowd took it pretty much in its stride and waited for the racers to show.

Dumfries, at least, got a double glimpse of its heroes thanks to a final loop on the opening stage.

Their first appearance was led by a breakaway group of two brave cyclists - Russell Hampton and Pieter Ghyllebert - but by the time the peleton returned, they had long since been swallowed up.

That delivered what most of the crowd had been waiting for - a sprint finish set up for Cavendish by his HTC Highroad leadout team.

He did not let us down as he passed in a flash to secure victory.

A scene played out often enough on the Champs Elysees in Paris had just been recreated in Dumfries and Galloway.

It was over in an instant, after what felt like an age spent standing in the rain, but I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

It turns out we were lucky, as a day later even worse weather hit the UK, prompting the cancellation of the second stage.

Cycling is one of the few sports in the world where the protagonists actually come to you - often passing right by your front door.

On Sunday, they came along the roads I know best of all, putting the region on the sporting map for an afternoon.

And, if they were willing to get on their bikes in such conditions, the least we could do was turn out to give them a cheer.

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