Tour de France Yorkshire 2014
On yer bike! God’s own county plays host to the Tour de France, and Carole Tidball is there with a first-hand account of the action.
As a swarm of helicopters buzzed into view, swooping low to hover above singularly unimpressed stripy sheep, roadside spectators leapt to their feet in a Mexican wave of eager anticipation. A cavalcade of police and gendarme motorbikes rounded the bend followed by a yellow Skoda. Finally, a lone cyclist appeared, swiftly followed by the peloton – a blur of bright lycra, bowed shoulders and whirring wheels. Hundreds of fists punched the air, waved flags and brandished cameras. Cries of “Allez, allez, allez” filled the air. The long-awaited Tour had arrived and … seconds later … departed!
The lead up to le Grand Depart in the picturesque hills and dales of Yorkshire had been gaining momentum since Christmas. Hundreds of potholes had been filled and roads resurfaced. Rickety dry-stone walls lining hilly, hairpin bends had been replaced by gleaming new steel barriers. A 100 day Yorkshire festival had attracted over 750,000 people to 1,400 lead performances involving 7,000 participants. Huge art installations appeared in farmer’s fields and featured on BBC’s “Countryfile”. Our local “The Waggon and Horses”, sitting on the route through Langsett, rebranded itself as The Pedalers’ Inn whilst the cafe opposite was repainted white with huge red polka dots. Local womenfolk knitted bunting: hundreds of miniscule yellow jerseys and crocheted Yorkshire White Roses. Yellow bikes proliferated.
Stage 1 of the Tour, from Leeds to Harrogate, showcased the stunning Yorkshire scenery in all its glory to a global TV audience of about 3.5 billion, stimulating international interest in the North of England as a tourist destination. Although it had cost between £6.5m and £10m to stage, the Tour is expected to have generated at least £100m over the weekend of the Grand Depart. Race Director, Christian Prudhomme, has already declared this to be: “the grandest Grand Depart ever … amazing, unforgettable.” French Sports journalist Francois Thomazeau, proclaimed the images showing the beauty and charm of “L’Angleterre profonde” were a revelation to millions of French viewers who rarely venture north of London and “cannot even pronounce Yorkshire – a word mostly applied to a breed of small dogs favoured by old ladies”!
Stage 2, York to Sheffield, passed close to our home which rapidly filled with young visitors from far and wide: two of my sons and their friends. Much time was spent debating the best vantage point. Driving anywhere was not an option. Local roads were closed and the nearest “official” car parks were further away in the attractive market town of Penistone, no doubt crammed with giggling selfie-obsessed tourists. I favoured trekking to the summit of Le Cote de Midhopestones where the challenging gradient and bends would soon separate tourists and cyclists! However, not all of our youngsters had footwear suited to the 12 mile round hike so we packed a picnic, filled a cool bag with fruit ciders and tinned Pyms and set off to find a closer spot in Langsett.
Joining other groups of animated walkers and cyclists thronging towards Le Route, we passed entrepreneurial farmers offering refreshments and parking: £10 with toilet; £5 without. I had discovered too late a total absence of yellow or polka dot clothing in my wardrobe, so I was genuinely delighted when a young couple approached selling bright yellow t-shirts emblazoned with “Le reyt good send off! TDF Yorkshire 2014”. Strangely, the youngsters in my party could not be tempted!
As expected, the roadside around the pub and cafe was heaving with spectators jammed in behind metal barriers, staking claims with folding chairs and footstools, but the crowds soon thinned further along the road in open country. We settled on the grass verge by a hillside covered with a giant “Baaarnsley” picked out in white and grazed by sheep impersonating zebras. Dark clouds were gathering in the distance but, for now, the sun beat down and we all confessed to feeling quite excited: there was a real buzz in the air.
Initially, I was the sole member of our group waving enthusiastically at every passing Skoda, motorbike and media van whilst the youngsters kept their cool. However, as the thrumming helicopters filled the skies like a scene from MASH, and “la tete de la course” came into view chased by le peloton, they all leapt to their feet with deafening shouts and whistles, camera phones poised! We then stayed to cheer through the last of the stragglers, struggling by, sporting injuries, smiling wryly in appreciation of our support.
As we packed our empties and made our way home, the rainclouds that had waited, benevolently, for the riders to complete their safe passage through God’s own county, violently unleashed their load. Soaked but exhilarated, we agreed that although the main event had lasted mere seconds, it had been a cracking day out – one we would remember for a long time.