In recent years cycling has enjoyed a renaissance in Britain following Olympic and Tour de France successes by riders Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins.

No longer just a pastime for middle aged men in lycra, cycling is now more appealing than ever - and to a general public of all ages – illustrated by the 2.5 million spectators who lined the first two stages of the Tour in Yorkshire at the weekend.

Today the third stage of the event departed from the historic streets of Cambridge before winding its way through rural Essex, the Olympic Park and onto the finish line at the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace.

At some places the crowds were fifteen people deep and even a heavy rain shower didn’t deter the eager onlookers.

Occasionally organisers of the Tour de France decide that in order to spread enthusiasm about cycling around the continent, some stages should take place in other European countries.

And that’s precisely why the Tour came to cycling crazy Britain.

Scot Whitlock, the editor of the magazine Cycling World, says there’s been a seismic shift in the British appreciation for cycling.

“Since British cycling did well in the Olympics and Bradley Wiggins and then Chris Froome – it seems that in the last 2-3 years it was a niche market. And now it seems to have boomed. Everybody is cycling.”

The last time the Tour de France began on British soil in 2007 the membership of the sport’s governing body British Cycling was approximately 20,000.

Seven years on and it has surged to 93,000, with 3,000 new members now signing up every month.

Sport England predicts that 200,000 more people are cycling on a regular basis – and according to the London School of Economics – cycling is now worth 3 billion pounds to the British economy.

On the finish line at the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace these spectators were desperate to get a glimpse of the cycling elite. One of them told VoR:

“I have been watching it for years, following it and wishing I could be there. And now I’m not going to miss this chance.”

Cycling is now the third biggest participation sport in England, behind swimming and athletics.

Sport England also estimates that 2.1m people cycle each week recreationally – and that’s not including the hundreds of thousands who use their bikes to commute to and from work.

The Tour de France’s arrival in 2014 is certainly no fluke and for Scot Whitlock of Cycling World magazine it’s a sign that the organisers of cycling’s biggest global event see Britain as the epicentre of the modern sport.

“It is so big for cycling and so big for the UK. The brand is massive. You can go anywhere in the world and someone is going to recognise the Tour de France sign. It is good for the UK, it is good for cycling. Hopefully we will continue in our forward thinking when it comes to cycling.”

Standing at the finish line this afternoon among hundreds of thousands of people it was more like being at a soccer match rather than a cycling event.

As Marcel Kittel crossed the finish line in first place to take the yellow jersey the crowd erupted in a manner more akin to Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge.

For many of the spectators lucky enough to edge their way to the front of the huge crowds the excitement was hard to bear.

As the excitement dies down in London the tour will cross the English Channel and head for the more familiar shores of France.

A further 18 stages stand between the 200 riders before the race reaches its final destination – a sprint finish along the world famous Champs-Élysées in Paris.

(VoR)