Somewhere, somehow, somebody made a law. It was unwritten and unspoken, but we leapt to follow it. We had to wear pink.
I wore a pink coat. Girl1 had a hoodie. Girl2 turned up with her class from school, a riot of shiny pink. The costume cupboard had been raided. Non regulation pink waistcoats and pantaloons, spangly headscarves and cheeks adorned with highlighter pen. We mingled in café with proper bike people, sophisticated hangers on. They were here for the cycling, but weren’t watching the practice. They’d seen it all before. They were coordinated and groomed. Multi lingual. Women with scarves (pink, stylish, not from a primary school costume cupboard) knotted for the chic rather than the warmth. Men in long shorts, with pink silk scarves. Belfast has never seen the like.
There were no crowds in the morning for the practice session. A few minutes walk from our house, some of the world’s top cyclists whizzed by on empty roads, with only us to holler and whoop. The regular Belfast cyclists were having a wonderful time on the clear roads too, and got the odd cheer from pink schoolchildren, as they went about their cycling business with an added glow.
I’m not a cyclist, or any sort of sportsperson. I didn’t expect the adrenaline buzz. I didn’t expect my jaw to drop at the power and sophistication of what was happening. A bunch of guys on bikes, behaving as one. One speedy, sleek organism. And the noise. In the quiet morning, the noise of the wheels was like magic. A long building buzzz, and away. Because this was practice for the time trials, we got to see the same teams several times as they worked out their moves. It never got dull.
We didn’t know who or what, so we talked about the yellow team and the blue team and the brown team and the black team and Team Sky. They looked like velodrome cyclists, with the pointy helmets and solid wheels.
It was a different story in the evening. Spurs Fan had nothing pink to wear, so wore an Italian football jersey instead. The pavements were packed- from one man and his dog in the morning, to the whole country in the evening. Our local streets were packed tight with parked cars. Thousands of people dripped at the side of the road, or put up pink umbrellas. The local pizza place delivered to the crowds. There were no regular cyclists on their bikes then. They were in the crowd, burbling excitedly to strangers about tactics and rules and speed.
The teams were faster the second time round- the competition was on. I did feel a bit sorry for the guys who seemed to get left behind. A group of five or so would power past, and then the rest of the team would come along in dribs and drabs. Why did they get left behind? The Brother (cycling expert) advised that they hadn’t been abandoned, it was the speed of the first five that was key in a time trial, and the ‘lost’ ones were being saved for something else. They were probably the fierce mountain men, waiting their turn to let rip.
I didn’t do the volunteering. I didn’t go to the finish line, or the start, or to any of the city centre festival type activities that went on during the weekend. We have no foam fingers, pink ponchos or clacky hand things.
I had a comfy seat by a window. I had coffee and a bacon bap. I could see all the teams doing all their things.
I had sunshine, an empty road and elite athletes.
Edit: belatedly, some wonderful pictures from the Guardian – they’ve got the pink, the murals, the big buildings, the cranes, and lots of cyclists.