Tour of Britain: Ipswich welcomes Wiggins and Cavendish

Mark Cavendish signs a book for a fan in Ipswich
Image caption Mark Cavendish was in demand at the start of the Tour of Britain

There was a surprising lack of stick-on sideburns, but the huge support for Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish as the Tour of Britain began in Suffolk surprised no-one.

Wiggins, a four-time Olympic gold medallist and Tour de France winner, and Cavendish, the reigning world road race champion and BBC Sports Personality of the Year, had a magnetic appeal as thousands of spectators turned out at Ipswich Waterfront.

By 08:00 BST, two hours before the first stage started, the viewing area near the start line was already packed, and further down the marina people stood patiently waiting for the teams.

Free hats and flags were given out by the first teams to arrive and soon a sea of green hats added to the colour of the Waterfront, which provided an idyllic backdrop for the start of the race between 100 riders over a 1,349.9km course.

When Team Sky arrived shortly before 09:00 their black coach was quickly surrounded.

"It's not every day you get to see your heroes," said Lewis Knights, a keen cyclist from Ipswich who a day earlier had ridden the route the professionals are tackling on the first stage in aid of charity.

Image caption Bradley Wiggins signed books, racing vests and even a marshall's jacket

Despite cycling enjoying an unprecedented amount of interest in the country, organisers of the Tour of Britain made the decision to continue its open access policy to riders.

This meant spectators could walk between the team vehicles and get close to the riders and their bikes.

Marina Northey and the Node4 Giordana team she works for were first to show up on the Waterfront.

"I love the crowds having a look around and the fact they can get up close and personal," she said, adding that in the Tour de France crowds are kept away from the teams.

"Here, they're literally touching the bikes, which I don't know is a good thing but it's pretty cool.

"We got here early so all eyes are on us but as soon as Sky got here everyone left."

Security was tighter outside the Team Sky coach, where members of the Royal Air Force were helping to maintain a temporary barrier.

After about half an hour of waiting, the crowd surrounding the coach got their first glimpse of a rider - Luke Rowe.

Image caption Elsie with her signed drawing of Bradley Wiggins

Ten minutes later there was a huge cheer and chants of "Wiggo, Wiggo" as the man with the Mod sign on the front of his helmet appeared.

"He's an awesome rider and probably the best Britain's ever had," said Michael Rouse, who was at the front of the crowd.

"He's been a brilliant track cyclist and then taken it on to the road."

A six-year-old girl, Elsie, was waiting for Wiggins in a homemade T-shirt with a message for the cyclist and got to meet him as he made his way to the start line.

He stopped to have a chat and put his signature next to her drawing of him.

"He's my favourite cyclist," she said. "I like him because he's kind of nice and for his sportsmanship."

Cavendish was the last to appear from the bus and was given a hero's reception - with the noise levels equalling those given to Wiggins.

Max Wardley, from Ipswich, said he had followed Cavendish "since he started".

He had seen the team bus parked at a hotel near his house and managed to get his hero's autograph as he headed to the Waterfront.

"I was gobsmacked, I didn't know what to say to him," said Mr Wardley.

"It's the third best day of my life after the births of my sons."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites