There wasn’t a spectator at the Tour de France who wasn’t licking their lips at the prospect of Mark Cavendish’s sprint rematch with Andre Greipel on Wednesday – and it’s fair to assume that a group of eleven schoolchildren from Cavendish’s native Isle of Man were more enthusiastic and vocal than most.
The teenagers from Ramsey Grammar School and their teacher Rob Sorby had watched in dismay as Greipel out sprinted Cavendish in Carmaux on Tuesday. Twenty-four hours later, they stood alongside the finishing straight in Lavaur draped in the same Manx flags, singing the same verses of the Manx national anthem, but hoping for a different result.
On the stroke of five o’clock, the Ramsey Grammar delegation got what it was wishing for.
“We were disappointed in Carmaux on Tuesday, especially as we thought he’d won, but we still had a good time,” Sorby, a geography teacher, had told Cyclingnews midway through Wednesday’s 11th stage. “We picked these two stages to come to, thinking they were set up for Cav. It didn’t work out for him yesterday but our fingers are crossed for today.”
The school trip to France is one of several arranged by Ramsey Grammar every year, but the first to a bike race, and came about thanks to Sorby’s own passion for cycling. His group of thirteen to eighteen year olds contains several promising cyclists, some of whom have already ridden with or against Cavendish.
The teacher himself lined up against the Manx Missile on one of Cavendish’s recent visits to the Isle of Man. “We have a race called the Tour of the North in April, and I found myself on the start line next to Cav and the MotoGP rider Cal Crutchlow, who lives on the island. Cav still takes those races pretty seriously…”
While two days in a tent “eating crisps and sweets” are a far cry from riding the Tour, Sorby hopes that this first taste of the Grande Boucle will inspire the students in the same way as Cavendish’s Tour successes have been doing since 2008.
“Cav has already raised the profile of cycling on the island massively,” Sorby said.
“When people ask about cycling on the island, I always tell them that we now get 500 kids every Tuesday night turning up to the National Sports Centre in Douglas and doing some kind of race. They’re all in their HTC tops, dreaming of one day being like Cav. Quite a few like [Team Sky rider] Peter Kennaugh have already gone pretty far. A few others are on their way. Kids on the island who do want to follow in his footsteps have a great opportunity now, with all the contacts Cav and the other guys from the island have made.”
The Ramsey Grammar School group is due to fly back to the Isle of Man on Thursday. Meanwhile, the prodigal son, their man in green, will be flying the Manx flag and starring in a few more of their future dreams.