Calm before the storm as Tour set to hit Wincobank

The Star's Martin Smith finds the ideal vantage point, on the edge of Wincobank Common, next to Jenkin Road, to watch the Tour de France.
The Star's Martin Smith finds the ideal vantage point, on the edge of Wincobank Common, next to Jenkin Road, to watch the Tour de France.
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Deckchair, blanket, flask, croque monsieur – I’m all set, bring on Le Tour.

Today Wincobank Common is about as quiet as it must have been after the Romans left 2,000 years ago.

The only sounds are the vaguely unsettling ‘cha-cak’ of a couple of Magpies in the bushes and a midsummer breeze shuffling through the trees.

Perfect peace. But not for long.

On Sunday, arguably the world’s greatest sporting event will pass right through one of Sheffield’s most deprived areas.

And this spot will be a seething mass of bodies, around 6,000 on this small patch of grass, and up to 60,000 lining the length of Jenkin Road from the River Don to Shiregreen.

So if you’re planning on breezing up to Bradfield, Wincobank or anywhere else on the Tour route on Sunday you might need to think again.

Everyone and their uncle Pierre will be there and as Tour roads close to traffic at 8am on the day, access won’t be easy.

But it’s quiet today.

Where the common meets the big bend on Jenkin Road cars toil up the hill, drivers oblivious to the stunning views of Meadowhall, Forgemasters and Sheffield Arena stretched out under a blue sky to the horizon at Rotherham, Barnsley and beyond.

Things look much the same as they would on any other east Sheffield day but for a Tour banner at the top of the hill and a bit of bunting on railings half way up.

They haven’t exactly gone ‘chapeau’ crazy round here yet, though it may be different by Sunday.

However, there are lots of club and hobby cyclists.

Bike after bike zig-zags up the hill, some riders standing, others going for the low gear option and peddling like fury just to stand still.

Some keen and fit, others purple and panting and all there because they want an early taste of Le Tour.

Terry Carrick dropped his wife off at Meadowhall and got on his bike to have a go at the Tour’s steepest slope of Jenkin Hill - at 33 per cent gradient it has the biggest incline on the whole Tour – though not the steepest in Sheffield, that’s Blake Street in Upperthorpe.

Perhaps they could go that way next time when they’re more used to real hills.

Anyway, Terry cracked Jenkin Hill and he’s 67 
years old. “It was tough getting up there for me but I’m 67 and carrying a bit of weight,” said Terry of Chatsworth Road, Worksop.

“The tour lads will fly up there at 15mph, they won’t even get a sweat on”

Terry is a retired engineer who worked at Davy engineering in Sheffield for 40 years.

“I’m from Cumbria so the hills don’t bother me. I cycle around 200/250 miles a week but mostly in Lincolnshire which is a lot flatter than this.”

So will he be back in Wincobankon Sunday?

“Yes I will, and Saturday. We’re going to the Buttertubs and Hawes area in North Yorkshire to watch, then we’ll come to Meadowhall on Sunday and I’ll have a walk up here.

“To be honest it’s been a logistical nightmare trying to figure out what to do for the best on Sunday. Most cyclists want to watch but they have no idea where they are going to go, and there’s parking to worry about. I’ll be here early.”

Andi Payne cracked it too and he probably knows more about bikes than most of the riders on Le Tour.

Andi, aged 51, works at legendary Sheffield bike shop JE James Cycles on Bramall Lane – and he’s going to be a Tour De France marshall on Saturday in Skipton.

“There have been all sorts of riders coming up this hill and they have been in all sorts of trouble some of them,” said Andi, who breezed up the hill himself and was just getting ready for le grand free-wheel down again.

“I thought I would be able to do it, but it was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be.

“It’s not the worst hill on the Yorkshire stage, it’s fairly short – Holme Moss is tougher and longer though not technically as steep.”

Gareth Roberts is co-ordinating council and volunteer group efforts to make the events on Wincobank Common – the green bit at the top of the hill – go smoothly on Saturday and Sunday.

“We are expecting Jenkin Road to be full from top to bottom on Sunday when the Tour goes by,” said Gareth.

“We estimate that between 5,000 and 6,000 people will be able to gather on the common at the top of the hill and watch the cyclists come up the hill. As part of the community event there will be a heritage centre giving information about the Wincobank area, a community performance area, a bar, catering and a big screen, so those who can’t get to the roadside can still see the race.”

“Also on the common there is to be a first aid centre which will in effect be a field hospital to cater for a 50,000 to 60,000 crowd that could gather on the route up the hill. That’s how many the first aid centre has to be able to cover for.”

It’s going to be one of the biggest sporting days in Sheffield’s history, don’t be late.