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By Ian Dipple 24/05 Updated: 25/05 12:26
HUNDREDS of people packed into Redditch Town Centre yesterday (Thursday) as the borough played host to one of the country's elite cycling races.
Basked in sunshine residents turned out in force to create a carnival atmosphere as the fourth round of the Halfords Tours Series event took place - the first time it has been staged in Worcestershire.
Organisers say the turnout was one of the best they had seen on the tour and have already expressed their desire to return to the town again, with Redditch possibly in line to host the event for the next two years.
Mick Bennett, race director, told the Standard: "As a first venue it is on a par with venues we have been visiting for three years in year one. The crowd were amazing, how many people would you normally get in Redditch on a Thursday night, enjoying themselves at a free event watching such superb athletes. I would absolutely sign up to return tomorrow.
"The first ever bike race I saw inspired me to take it up and I won Olympic medals and went on to become a professional bike rider for nine years and it changed my whole life and I hope we've done that for some people in Redditch."
Prior to the race people were entertained by live music from Redditch band Stakeout at the bandstand and performances from Matchborough First School cheerleaders and the Revolution Twirlers, while a team of nine firefighters ran the course in full gear to raise money for St Richard's Hospice much to the delight of the cheering crowds.
The race itself saw some of the best cyclists from across the UK and the world compete over 30 laps around a specially designed course starting on Church Green West, going down Prospect Hill, along Clive Road and Hewell Road and up Unicorn Hill.
Starting the riders off was budding cyclist and member of Redditch Road and Path Cycling Club 11-year-old Fraser Salkeld, who won the Standard's competition to wave the starting flag. He described it as the 'best day of his life'.
"It was amazing. It makes you feel so proud to have something like this happen in Redditch."
The race itself was won by Niklas Gustavsson, of Team UK Youth, recording their first ever victory on the tour with Endura Racing recording their fourth win in four in the team race to continue their dominance at the top of the leader board.
Dean Windsor, of Endura Racing and who finished second in the individual event, said they were taking each race as it comes but were hopeful of continuing their run at Aberystwyth tonight (Friday).
"It was quite a difficult course, the last hill was really steep and you had to use all your power to just make it up there each lap but it was definitely one of the best the tour series has had. The noise was phenomenal, Redditch has put on a good show and I really hope we come back again here next year. I was even having a conversation on the start line with some of the locals so they are a friendly bunch here and I really want to come back."
Those watching also gave the event an overwhelming seal of approval.
Walkwood resident Dave Brewer said: "It's something Redditch doesn't have and anything that puts the town on the map has got to be a good thing."
Alison Jane, of North Redditch, appealed for more similar types of events to be held in the town but aimed at local riders.
"It's unique, and hopefully won't be a one off, and a reason to come into the town centre at night instead of just pubs, clubs and restaurants."
Alex Banes, from Walkwood and drummer with Stakeout, added: "It's nice when Redditch does this because there's not always a lot going on around the town and especially in the town centre, it was also great to see the bandstand being used."
The event was also the launch of Worcestershire County Council's £2.8million Choose How You Move project in Redditch which will encourage people to look at alternative ways of travelling rather than by car.
Coun John Smith, responsible for highways on Worcestershire County Council, said they would assess how the event had gone but were keen to see it return.
"It's great it's come to Worcestershire for the first time and it's in Redditch and all the support the people of Redditch have given it has been fantastic and it will give everybody and everything a boost. There has been some disruption but we've had few complaints about traffic issues and parking," he said.
"The whole thing gives all sorts of people all sorts of ideas for walking and cycling and we hope this will inspire a few more cyclists out on the roads around Redditch."
Redditch MP Karen Lumley added: "This shows what Redditch is all about, people have turned out to support their town, to say they are proud of Redditch and that makes me very proud."
Highlights of the event will be on ITV4 tonight (Friday) at 8pm.
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