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The first thing you see is a police motorcyclist riding slowly along the route.
Next come a couple of patrol cars, a BMW in Olympic torch livery of white and gold, and maybe a Range Rover carrying local VIPs.
There’s a brief lull. And then it begins. For the next ten minutes or so, a convoy of buses, cars, trucks, police cyclists and outriders – plus another brace of BMWs – filters at walking pace through crowded streets.
The trucks bear dancers or excitable types bellowing enthusiastically through loud hailers. Even the cops wave extravagantly at the throng as they pass.
Convoy: The Olympic flame is carried near Okehampton yesterday before Rap singer Will.i.am ran in Taunton
We’re somewhere on the Olympic flame’s journey around Britain – and the nation’s most blatant mobile traffic jam has just come to town.
For although there’s almost certainly a torch-bearer running proudly along the street somewhere, he or she is *****ing for space against the extraordinary cavalcade that will be trundling along the 8,000-mile route for the next 66 days.
So how many vehicles does it take to marshal a single Olympic flame for a 300-yard dash? Answer: 47. I counted them all in, and I counted them all out.
There are 16 ‘core vehicles’ assigned to accompany the torch for its epic journey – which last night saw the unlikely figure of US rap star Will.i.am, the Black Eyed Peas singer and a judge on BBC talent show The Voice, carrying it through Taunton.
But everywhere the procession goes, a small army of support and ancilliary vehicles is also called into service. In Cornwall on Saturday, for example, the convoy was escorted by police motorcyclists bearing the emblems of five separate constabularies. In south Devon, an ambulance, local dignitaries, firearms officers and police ‘safety officers’ on BMW mountain bikes joined the parade.
The advance party of sponsors' vehicles passed through the village of Modbury
It was a similar turnout yesterday in north Devon and Somerset, with a bomb disposal team in the convoy.
The London Olympic organising committee insists the vehicle fleet is necessary for what it describes as a ‘huge’ logistical operation, adding that each one has a specific and important role.
For the three most prominent vehicles on parade, that role is mostly commercial. Sponsors Coca-Cola, Samsung and Lloyds TSB each have a truck or coach kitted out in brand-name colours and they travel full time with the convoy.
By the time the convoy gets to the Olympic stadium in July it will have left a massive carbon footprint.
Dr Wendy Buckley, director of Carbon Footprint Ltd, which helps organisations to become carbon neutral, told the Daily Mail that if 47 was a typical daily average for vehicles, they were likely to emit a total of 223 tons of carbon dioxide. That would be equivalent to driving a Toyota Prius hybrid car more than 1.4million miles.
Alternatively, of course, perhaps the runners could borrow a tip from ancient Greece – and just run.
Leah Burch, center, carrying the Olympic flame on the leg between Plymouth and Modbury
TORCHBEARER 'STAGGERED' BY BID OF £153,000 ON EBAY FOR HER FLAME