The Tifosi

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Standing on a roadside to watch pro cycling is great! It’s free and afterwards you can ride the course and see just how rubbish you are compared to pros. Just don’t get too close says David Dunnico

Who can forget the crowds at last year’s Tour de France? Anything up to 5 million people lined the route of the British stages and made Yorkshire’s Grande Départ “the greatest ever” according to Race Director Christian Prudhomme.

2014 was the pinnacle of an amazing few years for cycling in Britain. The victories of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in the Tour de France and gold medals for Team GB in the London Olympics has made cycling one of the country’s most popular sports. Unlike Formula 1, lots of the people counted in statistics as fans, actually do the sport themselves. 3 million people ride a bike three or more times a week, not all of them spend their Sunday’s riding sportives or racing, but according to Sport England, cycling as a participation sport is ahead of football and third in popularity only behind swimming and athletics.

Uniquely amongst professional sports, road cycling is a public event. It’s free to watch and afterwards you can ride the course and see just how rubbish you are compared to pros. Fans are so close to their heroes they can touch them (DON’T!). It’s a weird sort of spectacle. You wait three hours to see 200 blokes whizz past in two minutes. You will definitely see more watching it on TV, but you will miss the atmosphere as it grows and grows whilst you are waiting and waiting, watching lots of other people waiting watching and waiting. You could pass a bit of time counting the ‘Tifosi’ – these are the avid fans who live and breathe the sport and shout out French phrases, though strictly speaking they should be shouting in Italian. In recent years, they have been joined by new fans. The success of Team Sky and Mark Cavendish has encouraged a younger, broader range of people to watch cycling – whole families are turning out to see what all the fuss and passion is about.

Personally I don’t want cycling to be like football. I prefer the fraternity of the wheel to the tribalism of “the beautiful game”, so you won’t be seeing me in a team jersey. (OK I do have a 1960s Mercier-Hutchinson top – but long defunct teams are OK). Cycling’s continental heritage encourages internationalism. You are as likely to see the Lion of Flanders being waved as the Union Jack, and I’ll cheer on Alberto Contador over Chris Froome every time, but then again I always wanted Dick Dastardly to win in ‘Wacky Races’.

You may have noticed (well you’ve probably not) that I’m loftily described as a ‘documentary photographer’. In my case this means I take pictures of things that don’t move about much, such as CCTV surveillance in the UK, urban trees, monuments to closed industry in inner cities, and the like. Definitely no sports photography for me then. In fact I rarely carry a camera, unless I’m off to photograph something specifically for a project. But I have started taking a camera to cycling events, and snapping – sorry documenting – the crowd with my usual appreciation and admiration for the absurd. And what a wonderful lot we are.

You can relive a little of that “greatest ever grande depart” watching any of the professional races that will take place on ordinary roads this year and take a few snaps of your own.

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