[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 8 July 2007, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Cycling fans cheer on Tour heroes
By Robert Leslie
BBC News, Tonbridge

Jeff and Tom Arnold
Jeff and Tom Arnold were there to cheer Geraint Thomas
Crowds partied across Kent as the Tour de France sped through the county - arriving on the route with hours to spare to grab the best vantage points.

In Tonbridge, fans camped out at the foot of Quarry Hill to wait for their heroes to attack the first of the "King of the Mountains" sections.

Jeff Arnold, 49, and his son Tom, 16, travelled from Wales to cheer on countryman Geraint Thomas.

"We've been here since 10am and have found a good spot," said Mr Arnold.

"We're going to wait here for him. We saw the Prologue in London yesterday, which was amazing, and it's great to see that people have come out in numbers here too."

Sarah Chipperfield, 65, was from London with her grandsons Dylan, seven, and Guillaume, five, who both wore racing caps they had bought the day before in Hyde Park.

"We're really rooting for Bradley Wiggins," she said.

"One day I want to race in the Tour de France," said Dylan, clutching an inflatable cycle shirt.

Crowds in Tonbridge
Crowds flocked to Tonbridge to see the peloton pass through

The caravan that preceded the riders was a tidal wave of pulsating disco music, sponsors' vehicles and colourful vans showering the pavements with an assortment or memorabilia - pens, sweets, fluorescent armbands, water bottles and key rings.

There was a car disguised as a lion, a motorcycle inside a rubber tyre - even a cross-Channel ferry.

I managed to grab a pen but had a bag of sweets snatched from my hand by children, who swept up every goodie within seconds.

Thousands lined the High Street - a strange mix of cycle enthusiasts in bright Lycra, parents with buggies and ice-creams and children rushing around.

Joanne Given, 35, from Gatwick, West Sussex, was in Tonbridge with her two daughters:

"It's great for the children - they like to collect things - key rings, pens, whatever," she said.

"I'm just supporting the British riders but I'm also here to visit the town and have a walk along the river."

At Tonbridge Castle, costumed characters gave lessons in archery and cookery at a Medieval fair and jesters entertained children with slapstick and juggling.

Joanne Given and daughters
Joanne Given and her daughter enjoyed a sun-drenched visit

Out on the sports ground there were more sporting stands, food stalls and bouncy castles.

But, even during the hour and a half delay between the caravan and the race, people stayed put, not daring to give up their hard-won ringside seats.

A calm came over Tonbridge as the leading riders approached.

The buzz of three helicopters and a stream of police vehicles from both sides of the Channel announced their arrival and the crowds fell suddenly silent.

Then they were on us, past us and away in a quiet whoosh, pedalling gracefully up Quarry Hill and on towards Tunbridge Wells.

Five minutes later and the mass of the peloton swept past, a blur of yellows, greens, reds and bright pinks.

Once they, and their retinue of support vehicles had disappeared, people lingered, not quite sure what to do next.

But then the brass band started up again, a reminder that the party was far from over.

"That was incredible," said Sarah Bailey, 24, from Tonbridge.

"Worth the wait - I just wish I could press re-wind and see it all again in slow motion."


SEE ALSO

RELATED BBC LINKS



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific