THE Aviva Tour of Britain received a huge East Lancashire welcome yesterday as the biggest cycle race in the country came into town.

Huge crowds lined the roads across the Ribble Valley and Pendle to see some of the world’s top cyclists peddle through the toughest stage of this year’s event.

An estimated 20,000 cheered on the riders as they left Clitheroe shortly after 11am before tackling the twisting and winding roads which the route had to offer on the way to Colne.

The electric atmosphere in the towns and villages along the way started long before the riders came through and lasted for the rest of the day.

Spectators from far and wide descended on the region to take in the action and school pupils were let out of lessons to see the historic race and cheer on the riders.

Almost straight out of the blocks the riders, which counted Sir Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish amongst their number, tackled the first King of the Mountain stage, the Nick o’Pendle, after riding through Barrow, Wiswell and Pendleton.

Having safely navigated Pendle Hill the riders swung through Sabden and on to Whalley before reaching the first sprint section which ran through Wilpshire, Salesbury and Clayton-le-Dale.

The historic village of Ribchester was reached next with the riders moving on to Longridge and moving through the heart of the Ribble Valley and on to Chipping.

Dunsop Bridge, the centre of the UK, was next and the peloton then went through Slaidburn and Gisburn.

The second sprint stage was Skipton Road in Barnoldswick and the riders recovered through Earby before tackling the next King of the Mountain section just outside the town.

Then it was on through Barrowford, Barley, Downham and Chatburn and back into Clitheroe at a relentless pace just under four hours after leaving the town.

The last section of the race saw them take in Whalley, Brierfield and Nelson before reaching the finish line in Colne, and thousands of excited fans.

Cllr Stuart Hirst, leader of Ribble Valley Borough Council, said: “It was a fantastic event and will have boosted the area massively.”

Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans said: “Nothing like this has ever happened here before and it’s just such a fantastic opportunity for the area. I don’t think the success of this event can be overstated.”

Colne’s pride in hosting the home straight of the second stage can perhaps be summed up by a volunteer who hit the streets at 3am to ensure the town was looking its best.

Eric Peasey, from Colne in Bloom, was out tending the town’s award-winning hanging baskets and displays before dawn.

He was joined within a couple of hours by the race road crew, arriving from North Wales to transform the high street into an immaculate sporting arena.

Later a cycling events village was set up on Colne Market car park, riders clad in Union Jack leotards began an exercise bike run-through of the stage at Pendle Leisure Centre and the Galloping Grannies, the Segway senior citizens, had been let loose.

Colin Unwin, who runs About Coffee shop in Church Street, only five yards from the finishing line, said: “I was really proud that the race was coming to Colne and then I heard where it was going to end.

“We’ve had the race director, Mick Bennett, in here and he left his vintage Harry Quinn racing bike with us for safekeeping. It’s fantastic because Mark Cavendish was winning the Colne Grand Prix in 2004 and now he’s back again.”

Announcer Joe Fisher, an ex-Edge End High pupil who kept the crowd going from mid-morning to the eventual finish, told the crowd that “Colne had done the tour proud”.

Then it was just down to Mayor of Pendle Cllr Nawaz Ahmed to present the stage winner’s trophy to Vakoc – who was then also given the overall leader’s yellow jersey by ex-Pendle Council director Brian Cookson.

Pendle Council leader Cllr Mohammed Iqbal said: “The day has been fantastic and the crowds have been brilliant across Pendle.”