This was an exclusive story. I was seeing plenty of positive coverage about the Tour of Britain coming to my home town (tourism boost, getting people into cycling, a spectacle etc), but I knew there was. another, less rosy, story deep down. So I went out, spoke to local cyclists and found it. Here it is published online and on my radio bulletins.
As the final potholes are filled for the Tour of Britain’s arrival on Monday, some North Devon cyclists have warned the ‘dangerous’ cracks in North Devon’s roads are causing the decline of grassroots cycling.
Teams of maintenance workers have been seen sprinkled along the tour’s Devon Stage route over recent weeks, racing against time to fill potholes before the cyclists arrive.
Devon County Council says the event will generate £5million for the county’s economy, but the Gazette has learned of a less rosy picture among the cyclists who see North Devon’s roads at their best – and worst.
Cyclist Andy Brock, who works at a North Devon bike shop, said: “The roads are getting worse and worse – it’s just dangerous and to avoid the potholes you often have to swerve onto the centre line, it’s so dangerous.”
The Raptor Racing member added: “We’re finding that most roads are deteriorating badly and they’re just not getting the funding they need. You get certain places like Stibb Cross near Bideford where the actual road condition is appalling, especially going downhill.”
Marten Gallagher, a cyclist from Torrington, said: “It’s certainly a shame that we suddenly buck up our ideas to make sure the roads are nice and smooth when we’ve got a cycle race. Let’s see it happen all the year round.
“It’s definitely putting people off of cycling in the grassroots, a lot of people, my two daughters for one, say that they won’t cycle on the road anymore.”
Devon last hosted the Tour in 2016, when 250,000 people were thought to line the route, and one in five came from outside the region.
Stuart Hughes, DCC cabinet member for highways management, said the route was selected for low maintenance, or where it is already planned, so the cost has been kept low.
He said: “To put the costs into context the last Devon Stage to travel through North Devon in 2012 generated approximately £7.3m of extra spending in the county according to an independent report.
“This was a significant boost to Devon’s economy. This compares favourably to the £200,000 it costs the County Council to hold a typical Devon Stage.”
But Mr Gallagher disputed the economic case, saying: “If there’s an economic benefit to Devon from having the Tour of Britain come through it and because of that we can justify repairing the roads, then what about the economic benefit to the NHS and for the environment generally.
“In pure monetary terms for the NHS, in terms of people keeping fit and reducing our demands on that service, what about paying us back for that, in the same way.”
Featuring the likes of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas, the 174.9km Devon stage will finish on The Strand in Barnstaple before travelling around the country ahead of the grand finale in London on Sunday, September 9.
Mr Brock, who works at a North Devon bike shop, added: “It’s not like you want to smash every Strava segment, but actually you can’t ride at a safe certain pace because of the potholes, and as soon as it starts getting wet it’s treacherous – you don’t know how deep that pothole puddle is so you’re starting to move across the road in reduced visibility”
“The A377 is really bad, you’ve pretty much got to ride in the middle of the road. It’s a massive knock on effect with repairs if you hit a pothole.”
Several cyclists that the Gazette spoke to said the roads in France and Italy are worlds apart from North Devon.
Mr Gallagher also said the Tarka Trail was ‘bloody dangerous and not being repaired’, so he feels no choice but to use the roads from Barnstaple to Torrington to avoid the track.
“The main issue for me is that the potholes at the edge of the road, where cyclists have to cycle, don’t seem to get treated with the priority they deserve, simply because they don’t fit in with the depth requirements that are aimed at cars,” he added.