You know how sometimes the smallest things can have a profound impact on the way you see things? Well, roughly this time last year, I had one of those enlightening moments.
I was shooting the pre-race prep at stage 1 of the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire, in Doncaster. The usual buzz of excitement was dampened only slightly by passing showers and not at all by the people who were there to protest team Sky’s new title sponsor, Ineos – a multinational chemical company.
Protesters outside the Ineos team bus.
As the riders congregated at the start line, the heavens opened again, causing many of them to retreat back to their team car to don their wet weather gear. I was already near the Ineos team car when the biggest name in the race, if not (arguably) all of cycling, Chris Froome, had fled to find some protection from the rain.
The area where the riders get penned in at the start of a race isn’t exactly spacious, so his make shift changing room was actually the boot of a Ford estate, parked right next to the barriers which separated the fans from the riders.
Chris Froome’s very public changing room at Stage 1 of the 2019 Tour De Yorkshire.
The nature of cycling means spectators are often able to get very close (sometimes too close) to the riders, so I’m sure this wasn’t unusual for Froomey. But it was a unique opportunity for the local fans, who watched with intrigue, as one of the most famous athletes in the world got ready to race, almost within touching distance.
One local-sounding lady, in her 70s or 80s, decided she’d make the most of her privileged position, and as Chris was perched on the back of his team car, pulling his leg warmers on, her timid voice rose gently above the background chatter of the crowd, to deliver the message: “we love you, Chris”.
Chris Froome putting the wet weather gear on at stage 1 of the 2019 Tour De Yorkshire.
Now, maybe it’s because I share the same name as Chris, but something about this really resonated with me – in a bigger way than a simple four word sentence probably should have!
I’m not sure if it was the timidity in the the lady’s delivery; or her choice of the word “we”, rather than “I”; or the sincerity in her voice; or maybe it wasn’t what the lady said at all? Maybe it was actually Chris’ response that struck a chord with me…
I’m not sure how I expected him to respond. I don’t think I expected him to respond at all, to be honest. Like any professional athlete Chris Froome has thousands of things shouted at him over the course of a season – let alone a career – so has to be pretty good at blocking it out – for his own sanity, I suspect, as I know that not every word that gets thrown in his direction is delivered with the same adulation offered by this Yorkshirewoman. On this occasion though, Chris did respond.
With almost equal timidity, he slowly looked in the lady’s direction and acknowledged her words with a nervous “thank you”, and a candid smile. It felt as genuine as a ‘thank you’ ever could.
In the simple exchange of two short sentences and a simple smile, I learned so much. Seeing how much it meant; how appreciative and taken back a world-conquering-super-athlete was by the compassion of an anonymous spectator reminded me that before any of his achievements and accolades, he is only human. Like the rest of us. Complete with the same anxieties, insecurities and complexities. Yet for him, and many others in the public eye, not only are these things forgotten about, they’re not even considered in the first place.
The implications of my realisation run deeper than how I look at sports stars though. It applies equally to politicians and influencers; our peers and our rivals; our next-door neighbour or the people we pass in the street. To borrow the words of Jo Cox, who summarised my epiphany in a short sentence “we have more in common than that which divides us”.
Despite the rain, it’s hard not to smile in Yorkshire, surrounded by adoring fans.