Crowds defy the weather as Tour of Britain sweeps into Sunderland
Thunder, lightning and torrential rain could not dampen the spirits of sports fans as the AJ Bell Tour of Britain rolled into Sunderland
The field of more than 100 riders entered the city centre at around 3pm, after completing the 163.6km (101.7m) third stage of the race which had begun in Durham and taken in the North Pennines of Weardale and Teesdale before a sprint finish outside City Hall.
Belgian rider Kamiel Bonneu was first across the St Mary’s Way finish line and threw his arms in the air in celebration.
Organisers had been hoping for a bumper turn-out and while the torrential rain, coupled with lightning and thunder, will have deterred many casual spectators, there were still enough hardcore fans to cheer the riders on as the peloton made its way to Keel Square.
Fans had also defied the elements to spur the competitors on as they fought their way through horrendous conditions as the Tour made it was down Durham Road from the Board Inn.
Among the guests of honour today was Sunderland’s own former King of the Mountains, Eddie McGourley.
Eight-year-old Eddie rode in the 1970 Milk Race – the forerunner for today’s Tour – and was honoured for being the fastest cyclist on the hill sections of the course.
Now President of the Houghton Cycle Club, he was there with club members and delighted to see the tour come to Sunderland, despite the downpour.
"Apart from the weather, it is absolutely wonderful,” he said.
"And it is a big advert for the city – people will be tuning in to see it.”
Despite having a grandstand seat for the sprint finish, Eddie admitted somethings never change: “The hills are still my favourite,” he said.
Tour of Britain’s partnership director Jonathan Durling said he was delighted with how the race had been received on its first visit to Sunderland, despite the weather.
"It has been amazing,” he said. "It has been absolutely fantastic.
"Obviously the weather was always going to get in the way, but it has been brilliant.
"We have also brought the tour series here this year and last and we love it.
"There is always a very warm welcome and the local guys always try to engage the community.”
Pals Scott Wallace, 31, and 30-year-old Sam Renwick have followed in their heroes’ tyremarks by completing the same course as the riders - albeit in two stages.
The pair had already done most of the route, but polished off the last 15 miles today, allowing them to take in the start and finish of Stage Three.
"I only live about 500 metres from the start, so we went down to see them off, then up to Neville’s Cross to watch them go past, before we came through to Sunderland,” said Sam.
Scott was delighted to see the Tour come to the region: “It is nice to see the professionals that you watch on the telly all year round face-to-face,” he said.
City council cabinet member for vibrant city Coun Linda Williams said the Tour was the cap to a ‘very active’ summer in the city: “Swimming, cycling, running, it has been very much about encouraging people t be at the top of their game,” she said.
"And having the tour here has been amazing.”