FIVE MILLION spectators received cycling’s ultimate accolade after Tour de France chiefs lavished praise on Yorkshire’s unrivalled Grand Départ and how the county had “raised the bar” for all future hosts of the iconic cycle race.
The hard-earned verdict was the culmination of four years of planning – and then two days of spell-binding cycling – that saw Yorkshire wholeheartedly embrace the Tour and create some of the most evocative images in the race’s 111-year history.
It was illustrated by the human snake of 60,000 people that greeted defending champion Chris Froome and the rest of the peloton on the hairpins of a sun-soaked Holme Moss yesterday. Many fans were dressed in the red and white polka dots of the King of the Mountains jersey or draped in the equally symbolic white rose flag of Yorkshire to help inspire the riders to the summit.
They were among an estimated three million smiling spectators who lined virtually every yard of the 126-mile stage two route from York to Sheffield, where Italian champion Vincenzo Nibali claimed the famous yellow jersey after a late attack.
The action proved to be as dramatic, and spectacular, as Saturday’s roller-coaster opening stage from Leeds to Harrogate which was watched by two million people.
It was this enthusiasm that left race organiser Christian Prudhomme – and Tour legend Bernard Hinault – in awe of the warmth of their reception as Welcome to Yorkshire anticipates a financial windfall of at least £100m for the county’s tourism industry.
“When you said you would deliver the grandest Grand Départ of the Tour it was the truth. You have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France,” said Prudhomme.
“I work for the Tour, but I also love the Tour, and I have seen that the people of Yorkshire love the Tour too. I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you.
“Bernard Hinault said to me that it is the first time in 40 years on a bike that he has seen crowds like we saw this weekend.”
With the rain relenting on both days, Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity believes the extraordinary imagery will prove to be of “priceless” value.
“Our beautiful county has done itself proud once again,” he said.
“Undoubtedly, it will give a huge boost to the Yorkshire economy but it is the images of Yorkshire people, Yorkshire pride and Yorkshire’s outstanding landscapes beamed around the world which have been simply priceless for the county.”