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September 15 was a red-letter day for Glastonbury: the Tour of Britain Stage Five finished outside the Town Hall.
In preparation a team of Somerset County roadmenders began work in Magdalene Street on Monday 13, working full-tilt until midnight, with fire-breathing and thumping machinery, ironing out the traffic-calming bumps, which could have sent the bike racers airborne, as they pelt for that finish line at some 50km/h. This demonic road-mending activity was replaced in the small hours of Wednesday 15 when trucks began disgorging metal pedestrian barriers, which were deployed the full length of Magdalene Street by 7am, thoroughly closing the road to all comers and goers on four wheels. From then on, it was foot passengers only. Blissful silence descended.
After breakfast, lycra-clad men on bikes, and a few women too, began arriving: it became clear there would be more pedal-cycles in Glastonbury than it can ever have seen before, even including the days when the majority of Clarks and Morlands workforce cycled to the factories. These were thoroughbred bikes, beautiful custom-built machines, virtually every one, all loved and maintained in immaculate condition. I wondered where they were to be parked, as all in-town carparks had been requisitioned by the race authorities. I soon discovered the bikes were not to be parked at all: the owners hardly lost touch with these wondrous machines all day, carrying them if necessary wherever they went.
Around 10am, the silence was rudely shattered by the race tannoy system, which operated at full-volume for the next five hours and was deafening throughout the length of Magdalene Street. Glastonbury was being instructed how to behave when the Tour comes into town. The spectators were required to do more than watch: it was their role to make noise. Noise machines were provided, in the form of the pedestrian barriers, kitted out with their metal advertising panels, which the crowd was shown how to beat with their hands and plastic wands, meanwhile shouting hup, hup, hup. This training was put into practice with some ancillary events in which local youth valiantly performed circuit bike-racing in the serious noise zone outside the Town Hall.
Enthusiasts living on the route were able to follow the race on the internet, watching a series of coloured moving dots on Ordnance Survey maps. The map and dots were refreshed every few seconds, so we could see the amazing speed with which these heroes were scorching across the West Country.
Finally they were leaving Somerton, and then it all happened at once. The Stage leader, Marco Frapporti, swept silently down Fishers Hill, followed seconds later by an almost motionless Bradley Wiggins, in streamlined riding position.
Some minutes later came the really thrilling bit, as the peloton, the bulk of the riders, all bunched together and including the Tour leader in the yellow jersey, swooshed down Fishers Hill. The sound of their massed tyres on the road is unforgettable — it brings tears to my eyes. Those not in town to see, hear and experience this magical moment cannot begin to imagine what they missed.
Suddenly it was all over. The noise stopped, the spectator riders in lycra began to pedal off home, the racers had vanished, pedestrian barriers were packed up, huge wagons lumbered out of Abbey carpark, and the whole caboodle set off for East Anglia where Stage 6 would begin the following morning. Normalcy returned to Magdalene Street, which was even revealed as clear of litter, after its brief but amazing one-off transformation into a racetrack.