North Devon does Tour of Britain proud

SUN-blessed skies greeted cyclists and spectators as the Tour of Britain bike race whizzed through the region earlier today. For a few special hours North Devon four-wheeled traffic took a backseat as bicycles took a welcome turn to tear up the tors and r

SUN-blessed skies greeted cyclists and spectators as the Tour of Britain bike race whizzed through the region earlier today.

For a few special hours North Devon's four-wheeled traffic took a backseat as bicycles took a welcome turn to tear up the tors and roar through the county's country lanes.

Stage six of the Tour of Britain set off from Frome in Somerset at around 10.15 this morning. Some 114miles and four hours, five minutes and 20 seconds later, 95 cyclists had sped their way through Barnstaple and onto the finish in Bideford, cheered on by tens of thousands of people along the way.

At the finish line on Bideford Quay, an estimated 11,000 people lined the race barriers to witness what many have described as one of the most exciting finishes on the tour to date.

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The atmosphere was electric; people leaned out of second and third story windows along the quayside to get the best possible views of the action. At a local solicitors' firm adjacent to the finishing line, a group of women clambered out of an office window an on to an adjoining flat roof to take in a truly grandstand finish.

It was that kind of moment - a special couple of hours that will go down in Bideford's history quite like nothing else before it.

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As race commentators beamed back the ever-changing race positions via a radio link, the anticipation only grew as the cyclists got closer and closer. As the Bideford crowd was told the riders were sprinting down Barnstaple's Strand in front of one of the biggest audiences the Tour had ever seen, the famous inter-town rivalry only helped to hype the noise level still further.

A Mexican wave greeted the news the riders had re-grouped and were now heading for a sprint finish in Bideford, while as the first support motorcycles rounded onto the quayside from Bideford Longbridge, people in the crowd showed their appreciation by loudly banging their hands on the crash barriers in front of them.

Winner of the stage - and overall race leader - was Edvald Boasson Hagen, of team Columbia-HTC. The Norwegian, celebrating his fourth stage victory in this year's Tour, also won the Points competition in today's race and will wear the Yellow Jersey going into tomorrow's Hatherleigh to Yeovil stage.

Belgian Thomas De Gendt took the King of the Mountain jersey after winning climbs at Cothelstone Hill, Devil's Elbow and Winsford Hill. He also took the Sprint plaudits for placing second in sprints at Bridgwater, Wiveliscombe, and in Barnstaple.

After the race, ecstatic Bideford Mayor Andy Powell told the Gazette the race was everything he could have hoped for.

"Everything went right for Bideford today. The town has done me proud; these guys have really done it for me today.

"I'm told there were between 10,000 and 11,000 people in town today to watch the race and organisers have said the whole stage from start to finish was one of the best they have ever had on the Tour full stop. They also said that Bideford was one of the most picturesque finishes they could have hoped for; I am absolutely certain it will come back to the town again."

Cllr Powell also paid tribute to the schools that had allowed pupils to come down and be part of the action.

"The kids that were down here today have gone home with a memory of a lifetime," he said. "I'd like to pay a huge vote of thanks to those schools that came down to support us today."

Meanwhile, Bideford town councillor Emma Farrington said the event had put Bideford, Barnstaple and North Devon back on the map.

"It's great for North Devon," she said. "I've never seen anything quite like this in Bideford before; the Milk Race came through the town in the 1990s but to have a Tour of Britain stage finish here is phenomenal - I hope it comes back here.

"The town council was first approached about the race in March and it has always had the full support of the council; but this was better than I ever thought it could be.

"The atmosphere was brilliant, the people were incredible and I'm sure the entertainment the town council has put on for people later will be phenomenal.

"I've watched every stage of the race so far this year and I think today's stage has to be the best yet - I can't wait to watch the highlights on television tonight."

Father and son Alan and Andrew Corkhill have hit the headlines during the Tour for having visited every start and finish stage during the race's six-year history.

The cycling fans from Salisbury cut a distinctive dash in their matching leopard skin cowboy hats at the finish of today's stage in Bideford.

"Over the last six years, the Tour of Britain has got bigger and better," said Andrew.

"The crowds really help and today, they have been terrific. It's been a good day and a fantastic stage; the roads here are superb for cycling."

After the race, the crowds headed to Victoria Park where the town council has organised a host of events to keep the party going well into the night. A jazz band is currently playing at the time of writing. Next up, Bideford's boldest, bravest and best will be able to battle it out under the spotlight on the "Bideford's Got Talent" stage. The evening will come to a climax with tribute act Covered and a firework display at approximately 9pm.

Race highlights can be watched on ITV4 at 10.30pm tonight.

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