Norfolk Tour of Britain leg invoked community spirit

The Norfolk leg of the Tour of Britain lasted just over four hours, but inspired thousands to get involved. ANNABELLE DICKSON, who cycled the 118-mile route last month and has followed the Tour, reflects on a momentous occasion that has captured the imagination of many across the region.

It was the day we all became experts in pelotons, King of the Mountains and the different coloured jerseys.

But within a matter of hours, it was all over. 'Blink and you miss it', one spectator said.

Bringing the Tour of Britain to Norfolk was heralded as an opportunity to show off Norfolk to the world, get more people in the county on their bikes as well as bringing cash to the local economy.

But after months of build up, did Norfolk's Tour day live up to expectations?

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The figures are still being crunched, but with estimates of crowds surpassing 70,000, many have reported extra business.

Pubs along the route were heaving at a time when the tourist season is starting to wind down.

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Anecdotal evidence also suggests more people have got on their bikes. Many school children have been exposed to the benefits of cycling through Tour of Britain projects. And the sprightly pensioners who cycled the route from the comfort of their home, are a lesson to us all.

Yesterday, a team from the East of England Ambulance Cycle Response Unit even cycled the route to raise cash for the service.

I've also kept up the biking after trying out the route myself last month (once my legs had recovered!).

Norfolk County Council's Tour of Britain manager Fiona Roberts said organisations within the cycle world has also seen increased interest in the sport.

Although a brief survey of some of the county's cycle shops suggest there has not been much change in sales, owners say the Tour is a great thing for the cycling world and interest in cycling would only increase if the race came back.

But whether people do continue to cycle, or not, what was striking about Norfolk's leg of the race was the community spirit the event engendered.

Village halls served cream teas, employees left their desks and it has been a real talking point for many people over the last few weeks.

The length of bunting along the route must have run into many miles.

But a disappointment perhaps, was the television coverage? Thursday night's round up didn't do justice to our beautiful county.

The brief helicopter ride over the course at the start of the programme only gave a small glimpse of what Norfolk has to offer. But then the best of Norfolk is off the beaten track and it was a sports show, not a travel programme.

So at a time when budgets are tight, did the event justify the money spent on it?

The whole event cost the Norfolk taxpayer more than �250,000. Most of the bill was footed by the county council, with five district councils chipping in.

Yes, there are other services that could have done with the cash, but with an estimated knock-on effect of �1.5m to the local economy, there are many in the region who have gained.

Not to mention the pleasure many thousands had from watching the race.

Mrs Roberts, said: 'It was a massive success. All of the feedback I have got from the Tour of Britain has been great and, as reported, they said it was the biggest crowd they have ever seen.

'They were thrilled with it. It was down to people being enthusiastic about it.'

She said they had worked hard to get people engaged with the event and the feedback from businesses had been good.

'People have gone in and spent money because of the Tour,' she said.

'We are yet to gather all the evidence for what the impact has been economically, but just in terms of all the community engagement and with so many different groups and so many organisations able to get involved, it has been great.'

Murmurs from County Hall suggest that there is a distinct possibility the Tour could return next year.

'I think if we got it back it would get bigger,' said Mrs Roberts.

She said she had spoken to councils on other legs of the route which had seen an increase in the numbers turning out to watch the second year.

'I think that given another year we would be able to build on all the things that we started this year. We would have more time to develop the schools.'

On Thursday, one cycling pundit described crowd scenes along the Norfolk route as reminiscent of the Tour de France – the greatest cycling event on earth.

Give us a few more years, and perhaps Norfolk really could rival it.

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