The Hunger Pt 1

Ever since the announcement that central London had been double-booked last Saturday and the pope had first dibs over the Tour of Britain, I have been trying to tell anyone prepared to listen that a combination of the two would work beautifully.

Replace the race director’s car with the popemobile and everybody wins. The tour gains thousands of spectators – devout Catholics rather than devout cycling fans, but they could be converted – and the faithful get something a little more exciting than His Holiness pootling round town in a motorised Perspex box. The pontiff could have concluded the day’s entertainment by presenting the yellow jersey to Michael Albasini before cuddling one of the podium girls for the obligatory photo opportunity, apologising for the church’s many failings, then (knock ‘em dead, Benny) performing the beatification of Cardinal Newman. All that fun for free – leaving aside the estimated £12m the visit has cost UK taxpayers, that is.

The only downside I can see is the ability of the popemobile to take the corners of the Westminster circuit at race-pace. Throwing a converted Mercedes M-Class into the right-hander at the bottom of Whitehall at 30mph would be a good test for the vehicle’s stability, but a rough ride for il pape.

But apart from that, the idea is, I think, a winner. Sadly, my demented ramblings fell on deaf ears, the church triumphed, and the Tour of Britain was unceremoniously punted in an easterly direction, past the Toytown architecture of the Isle of Dogs to windswept barren wastelands adjoining the City Airport.

Here the peloton, having experienced some of the most spectacular cycling scenery this country has to offer over the past week (and some classic British autumnal weather), got to tear up and down a dual carriageway in possibly the ugliest part of our glorious Capital available.

The evening’s TV coverage, to really rub salt in an already positively gangrenous wound, showed a film montage of the great sights of London, much like you get on Tour de France highlights, except featuring all those famous buildings the spectators would not be seeing that day. Anyone tuning in to gauge what the nearby Olympic site would look like come 2012 was in for a shock. Silvertown has a long way to go.

A fair few thousand cycling fans, however, made the journey and probably enjoyed themselves well enough. Or would have done had the organisation had the foresight to actually provide some catering facilities. We cyclists love to eat, do we not? Tempt a multitude of us to the middle of nowhere and your hot dog stall is going to make a killing. Not so much as a squeezy bottle of English mustard was to be sniffed within a three-mile radius.

Some people who ride bikes also, apparently, like an alcoholic beverage, especially now the racing season has ended for most. We wandered sober as a cloud, pressing ourselves against the fencing separating the beer-swilling VIP’s from the great unwashed, just in case one of them should be asked the time and, in a Joan Collins-esque, Cinzano moment, tip their drink in our direction.

A coffee, then? Tea even? Surely there was a stall selling coffee and cake? Nope. The owner of the little booth at the DLR station had the foresight to open for business, so if you didn’t mind missing the racing to stand in a queue for half an hour, there was refreshment to be had.

What about the racing? It was alright, I suppose. I didn’t see much of it, to be perfectly honest: too busy queuing for a coffee…

Had the pope been able to swing past Silvertown on the way home with a couple fish and a handful of loaves, perhaps he’d have been able to sort out something miraculous for the five thousand. But probably not. We headed home: hungry, thirsty and preying for a return to Westminster next year.


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