Video/Gallery: Crowds come out in a tour de force as the Tour de France comes to Essex
Our reporter Will Lodge and photographer Sarah Lucy Brown headed to Finchingfield today to watch the spectacle of the Tour de France roll through.
It was a day of superlatives for everyone we spoke to in the village, which was transformed for the event.
The village green and hillside became a sea of people, with many getting into their spot hours before any sign of the race came through.
It was like a magnet for people all over the region, with cycling fans travelling from Suffolk to see the action.
People were also drawn in by the big screen which showed the race live, before the almost 200 cyclists came right before the spectators’ eyes.
Ahead of the main event was the Caravan, a procession of floats and trucks promoting the race sponsors and giving out freebies or selling official merchandise.
For many it was the first time they had experienced the full extent of the Tour, with the TV coverage usually focusing on the racing itself.
Ian Fox, who lives in the neighbouring village of Great Bardfield, has seen the Tour de France in its native country before.
He said: “I find it absolutely amazing how the British over the last two days, and here in Essex today, have really come out in their hoardes for this – especially when it is only really in the last two or three years people have taken more of an interest in the sport.
“It has been like this in France for the last 30 years, but this is amazing.
“I would say the turn-out here is probably better than what you might get in some smaller French villages simply because they are used to it.”
Paul Sadler, 47, travelled from Huntingdon with his friends and family to watch the race in Finchingfield.
He said: “We came down last night and stayed at the Spains Hall caravan park.
“The atmosphere is fantastic, absolutely superb. I am shocked at how many people are here.
“Essex can definitely challenge Yorkshire in terms of support.”
Ahead of the race, he said: ““I hope to catch a glimpse of Froome, and Nibali as well. Hopefully the narrow bridge will slow it down a bit, that’s why we have chosen this spot.”
Fundraisers Melissa Collett, Madeleine Heath and Kathryn Rowland were in the village collecting donations for East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices and handing out flags.
Madeleine said: “A lot of people are donating and we hope the flags will give us some TV coverage today too.”
Niall Fitzgerald was one of 25 riders from Boxford Bike Club to make the trip to Finchingfield, travelling on part of the route.
He said: “This is the closest point to our club and it is so busy, it’s brilliant.
“I have never ridden to such a crowd before, and never will again.”
Around 25 riders from the Ipswich Bicycle Club also made the journey.
Boo Dendy said: “I was in France last year at Alpe d’Huez [the most famous mountain climb in the Tour de France], but this here in Essex was just great.
“It is fantastic that both Yorkshire and Essex turned out, whether you’re into cycling or not, and showed off what a beautiful place it is.
“The whole length and breadth of Finchingfield has been decorated and made this into a celebration of cycling.”
Fellow club rider Adam Keer added: “It was my first time watching the Tour live, and it was fantastic.
“I’ve never been to Finchingfield before but they really put on a spectacle and I will definitely be coming back.”