Tomorrow is the Grand Départ of this year’s Tour de France cycle race – probably the world’s best known cycling event – and it’s taking place in Yorkshire. Although it’s a French race, with most of the stages taking place in France, the first stages are sometimes held in other countries. The local tourist board, Welcome to Yorkshire, put in a successful bid to host the first stage, beating other bids. The first two days, Saturday and Sunday, are in Yorkshire, and a third day will see riders bike from Cambridge into London.
The Grand Départ – the start of the first stage of the race – is in central Leeds on Saturday. Initially heading to Harewood House and Otley, the riders will then cycle up the Wharfe Valley up to Skipton, then through Grassington and across the Yorkshire Dales National Park to Hawes (home of Wensleydale Cheese), around to Leyburn, on to Masham (home of the Black Sheep and Theakstons breweries), around the Ripon bypass, and ending up on The Stray in Harrogate. The teams will move overnight to York.
On day two, they will start from the Knavesmire, home of York Racecourse, and head back through the centre of Harrogate before passing through the amusingly named village of Blubberhouses. They will drop down into the Aire Valley to pass through Addingham and Silsden, and onwards to Keighley, before following the Worth Valley to Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters. They will then climb up onto Oxenhope Moor, drop down into the Calder Valley at Hebden Bridge, and then ride up again along Cragg Vale. A sharp left turn will bring them down into the Ryburn Valley at Ripponden, just down the road from where I live in Sowerby Bridge, before again going back up on the moors to cross over to Elland. They will pass under the M62 and go through Huddersfield, and onwards to Holmfirth, where Last of the Summer Wine is set, and then to Woodhead Reservoir on the Yorkshire-Greater Manchester border. Entering South Yorkshire, the riders will then make their way to the end of the stage in Sheffield, near the Don Valley Stadium.
Unlike when London hosted the Olympics in 2012, there hasn’t been much controversy about hosting the Tour de France. This is probably because hosting the Tour de France will cost a few tens of millions, rather than billions of pounds, and the expected economic gain from increased tourism during and after the event is likely to be four times more than the cost. The main controversial issue has been the necessary road closures, but at least these are just for two days and not for several years.
And the event has enjoyed great community support. Most of the shops on the high street in Sowerby Bridge (which isn’t actually on the route) have yellow bikes in their displays, and this is a trend repeated across the county, especially in towns on the route. Various arrangements have been made to transport spectators where the roads are shut, including a 50% increase in train capacity, and high numbers of visitors are expected.
Normally I’m not interested in sport but I’m looking forward to the Tour de France this year, if only to see the places I recognise on TV. Yorkshire is home to some wonderful countryside and it’ll be great to see it broadcasted to the world. Of course, it being Yorkshire, it’ll probably rain this weekend, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for nice weather.