“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?
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.
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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.
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).
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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.