“In Spring a young man’s fancy…” Well, this Spring, being no longer young, my fancy turned to applying for volunteering at the World Road Championships on the “Yorkshire Team”, the events being held 22st to 29th September in Yorkshire, where I have been living for the past eleven years.

And, to ensure I got to do something, I offered my services for the whole event as well as the Paracycling races on the 21st.

In June I learned that I had been allocated Route Marshalling roles in Harrogate on seven days including the paracycling. Eeh, bah gum! What larks! But then I wondered if this might not be a bit much for a Yorkshire Team virgin. 

In July we volunteers attended seminars to have explained to us the routes and races and also much of the organisation behind the event. I can’t speak for others, but it boggled my mind. The Police also held seminars on how to cope with the Public in certain situations, from a lost child to potentially dangerous situations, all very interesting.

On 8th September I collected my accreditation (a pass on a lanyard) and my bright red uniform from St Georges Hall in Bradford. Because I had shifts on seven days, I was given two Polo shirts instead of only one, as well as a wateproof jacket and a Highviz waistcoat. Yorkshire Tea were sponsoring the volunteers, and to coincide with the current advertising campaign’s theme, “a proper cup of tea”, the words “PROPER VOLUNTEER” were printed on the backs of the jackets and shirt, with a “Yorkshire TeaM”  badge on the front. Geddit?

Volunteering at the World Road Championships
Bill (r) and a half-asleep Martin on the World’s course. Photo©Ed Hood

The Yorkshire Team (not volunteers) provided comprehensive information concerning all aspects of the event and the volunteer roles and had set up a volunteer hub in the Wesley Centre in Oxford Street in Harrogate. This was the meeting place for those on duty in Harrogate before one’s shift and was where volunteers in Harrogate could refresh themselves, watch the races on television if not on shift, have lunch and, of course, fill their boots with Yorkshire tea.

I also got myself a red trucker’s hat with the Yorkshire flag printed on the front, so that when (not if) it rained the peak would keep my spectacles clear.

I was ready.

* * *

The Wesley Centre was awash with people in red shirts on the first day of my shifts, the Saturday of The Yorkshire 2019 Para-cycling International. I blended in nicely in mine.

I soon found out that I was with the Finish Line group and our job was to recover transponders from the bikes, accompany the winners to anti-doping control and the podium and assist the athletes in any way they required until they and their equipment were safely back in their team buses.

There were 227 athletes from 12 nations looking for 2020 Olympic qualifying times, starting in three different towns, Beverly, Tadcaster and Wetherby, depending on the athletes’ categories. And because of the varying distances and abilities, the winners of each category were expected to arrive at the finish line anywhere from 15:15 to 16:30. And so it proved.

What an afternoon it was! The sun that had appeared at first light was still up there, in a blue sky, beaming down with warmth upon the para athletes. Perfect.

Volunteering at the World Road Championships
Photo©Katie Pugh

Every one of the riders who finished that I chatted with, winners and also-rans, were amazing people, thrilled to be racing on closed roads for the first time (instead of on a closed circuit, as per the World Championships which had taken place the week before in the Netherlands), and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of cheering spectators by the roadside.

Although we didn’t get to see any of the action, I and the rest of our crew were very pleased to have been a tiny part of this unique event.

For two of the other days that I was required, I was stationed on Oakdale bridge, the tricky double left-hander over Oak Beck on the Finishing Circuit, and the remaining four days, along Crescent Road at the bottom of Parliament Street, where the finish line was situated.

The job now involved being visible (not difficult being dressed in pillar-box red shirts or jackets with a yellow high visibility waistcoat on top. With the right hat, I could have been mistaken for a garden gnome), to help spectators with any queries they might have but also being aware of any potential risks to the riders from spectators’ actions, and the safety of the public.

Each day saw a gradual build-up of spectators, despite the weather on some days being foul, and people were in a good mood and ready to have a chat; some asked questions about the races and the popular queries were ‘how to get to the bus or railway station?’ and ‘where are the public toilets?’. The latter query was easily answered because I had found the location several weeks previously (for my own reasons).

* * *

The 747 Flying Tiger Bus landed me in Harrogate for my stint in Crescent Road during the Mixed Relay TT on Sunday, the first ever with National Teams of three male and three female riders.

Unlike yesterday, it was a dull day with wet roads but not cold (by Yorkshire standards). The team I was with today were already on site but there was plenty of time for me to grab some biscuits and a cup of Redbush (I had taken my own teabags as I don’t drink tea). Heaven forfend! I hear you say. Sorry, I’m from the South where we are accustomed to a more exotic choice of beverage.

Volunteering at the World Road Championships
The victorious Netherlands combo. Photo©Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com

No sun today but no rain either for this novelty event. There were ten of us to involve ourselves in “Spectator Engagement” in Crescent Road, where the riders would turn right into Parliament Street and go up to the Finish. In other words, answering questions like “Where are the toilets?” and “Where is there a crossing point?”, etc.

On this day the number of spectators was low in Crescent Road which meant we got a better look at the riders as they took the dipping left turn at the bottom of Valley Drive, brushing by the sharp left-hander from Swan Road into Crescent Road. Two for the price of one.

Not many spectators in my location halfway down the road; most were on the corners at either end of the street. So I took to wandering up and down and did my bit again in directing people to the Public Conveniences and chatted with a number of others between riders passing.

It was a less-than-exciting day, shall we say. But tomorrow could be a different story; my shift will be at Oak Beck on the Oakdale Bridge, a nasty double left-hander over a narrow bridge.

* * *

Lawks a’ mercy! A long day today; a six a.m. start in order to be in place on Oakdale Bridge in Penny Pot Lane by 08:10, ready for the Junior Women TT which would start at 10:10 to do one lap of the 14km Harrogate Circuit. The Junior Men TT would be starting at 13:40 and scheduled to finish about 16:10.

The other volunteers with me today had previously volunteered for several Tours de Yorkshire and the Grand Départ in 2014 but I had been chosen as the Supervisor. Go figure.

However, all it meant was that I had the extra task of notifying the Yorkshire Team as to who had been at Oak Beck with me.

Just four of us at this location today so two at the start of the bridge and myself and the other at the exit, in the shadows.

Junior Men TT podium (l-r): Enzo Leijnse (Netherlands), Antonio Tiberi (Italy) and Marco Brenner (Germany). Photo©Getty Images

There were few spectators about, mostly bikies passing by, and our job today was to just ensure that locals out walking their dogs passed safely over the bridge or crossed the road at the appropriate time, to enter or exit the adjacent woods.

The roads were wet and we wondered how the riders would handle the bend after hurtling downhill for the 500 metres before it. Hoardings had been erected on the two-foot high parapet on the outside of the bend: would they come into play? Hitting them would be no joke, judging by the amount of scaffolding buttressing them, but better than flying off the bridge and dropping four metres into the beck.

We need not have worried. The girls and the lads in the afternoon, (under sunnier skies and dry roads) handled the bend with consummate ease – bar one; a Latvian lad who got his line wrong and came off the tarmac, brushed by me as I stepped back gracefully, and fell onto the grass verge inches short of a mucky ditch.

A team mechanic leapt out of the car as it stopped beside me and had the rider on his way with the loss of just a handful of seconds. But now without the speed he should have carried off the bridge, the following drag would add to his time loss.

Job done, home by 6 pm.

* * *

My next day on the bridge was for the Junior Men Road Race and the race was timed to reach the Harrogate Circuit at 14:40, so a midday start today, with different volunteers. I was Supervisor again and still the one with the least experience…

Junior Men RR winner, American Quinn Simmons. Photo©Martin Williamson

Like all the other days, the other volunteers were good company and it turned out we had little to do again because there were a number of security people and race marshals who joined us, in the rain, to see the riders safely through on their three laps of the hard, tricky circuit.

I made sure I stood behind the flag and whistle marshal who was better kitted-out, crash helmet and all, to withstand a collision. Once bitten…

There was only one casualty today; a lad who, apparently, had braking problems and didn’t attempt the bend but took the driveway beside the bridge. Unfortunately, his deralllieur hit something and he had to wait a minute or two for the car, to get a new bike.

The rain ceased just before the end of the race and we left for home.

* * *

Crescent Road was my patch for each of the remaining days of the championships, but as Deputy Supervisor, with mostly different volunteers every day.

Although there were two races on the Friday, I only had to turn up for the u23 Men Road Race in the p.m. so no more early starts.

The Netherlands riders celebrate – before the Commissaires made their decision. Photo©Ed Hood

The race was to finish one lap early to avoid the riders having to fit lights and reflectors. It was odd that the UCI hadn’t consulted The Old Moor’s Almanac to check when darkness falls in Yorkshire in late September.

* * *

The Elite Women Road Race on Saturday enjoyed similar weather to the week before and it was pleasant to feel the warmth of the sun once more.

The international fans were out in force and the Norwegians had bagged the inside of the Swan Road/Crescent Road corner. Their flags could be seen way above the heads of the crowd and I chatted with one who sported a top hat and frock coat in Norwegian colours, mainly red with white and black touches. It was his eleventh Worlds.

Annemiek Van Vleuten. Photo©Martin Williamson

The mood was really festive and expectant and the thunderous cheering when Annamiek Van Vleuten turned the corner was louder than I expected and more akin to that of a football crowd. I didn’t get to see much of the riders but it was an enjoyable experience nevertheless.

* * *

Sunday, for the Elite Men Road Race, was the coldest, wettest day of the week. Despite this, the crowds were greater still, although maybe not in such a party mood as on the Saturday.

The rain fell throughout the race and the volunteer’s jacket proved to be as fully waterproof as the overtrousers I wore.

Pouring with rain, from start to finish. Photo©Martin Williamson

But by the fifth lap of nine I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. No wonder the riders were dropping like flies. So I made my way to the Volunteer Hub and plunged my hands into a sink full of hot water. Once the tingling had stopped and I’d dried my hands, I helped myself to a hot drink and a couple of biscuits, courtesy of Yorkshire Tea. Champion!

Refreshed and warm I returned to Crescent Road for the final laps, then headed off to the bus station for my ride home.

* * *

I would urge anyone to give volunteering for a big event a go. Mi’sen? I shall definitely be helping at next year’s Tour de Yorkshire. 

Sithee!