The Tour de France has ignited an unbridled passion for two wheels in the Wharfe Valley.
On the doorstep to the Yorkshire Dales, picturesque towns and villages including Otley, Ilkley, Addingham and Burley-in-Wharfedale have truly embraced the cycling theme of the Tour de France.
Every day hundreds of riders roll through the area, which has become emblazoned in Le Tour’s famous colours, with shops bedecked in Yellow Jersey bunting and yellow bike displays situated at junctions all over town.
Momentum is building ahead of the arrival of the world’s greatest cycle race this summer. The best riders on the planet will file through Pool, Otley, Ilkley and Addingham on July 5, while the latter will also host a small part of stage two on July 6.
This year’s Ilkley Carnival took on a Yorkshire Tour theme, with 1,500 children, teachers, parents, air cadets, pipers and a brass band taking part in the cycling-inspired parade which attracted large crowds on to Brook Street and The Grove.
Event organisers also encouraged shop owners to create Tour de France window displays, while stunt cyclists performed and a life-sized Sir Bradley Wiggins model was paraded in celebration of the upcoming race in the May Day bank holiday event.
The nearby Otley Show also attracted 20,000 visitors in its 205th year. Show chairman Jeff Crabtree said: “It’s the start of a great year ahead. The Tour de France passes through the town and it’s looking a more vibrant place to be.”
Months of preparation have gone into making Le Tour’s visit a memorable and enjoyable spectacle. Burley-in-Wharfedale’s plans include secure cycle storage at the Red Lion, games on the village green, a family disco at Queen’s Hall and TV viewing across the village.
Official Leeds City Council-run spectator zones will host 15,000 people in Otley town centre and another 13,000 at Ilkley’s Riverside Gardens from July 3 to 6, while community-run events in Pool are expected to attract a further 6,000 fans.
Leeds singer-songwriter Rupert Stroud will perform to spectators at Ilkley Hub at Riverside Gardens on Friday July 4 before Le Tour flys by. A pop-up cinema, big screens, food and drink and a dedicated children’s area will also feature in the four-day hub festival.
Bryan Websdale, from Ilkley Parish Council, said: “We hope to put on a great show for everyone – be they those that live in Ilkley, or those that are coming to our beautiful town for the first, hopefully not the last, time.”
The unprecedented arrival of Le Tour has seen landowners set up high-capacity camp sites and spectator zones across the district including at Ilkley’s Ben Rhydding Sports Club, the Olicanian Cricket Club and Bracken Ghyll Golf Club, in Addingham, among others.
Addingham will host its very own Tour de France festival featuring a full programme of events in pubs and halls in the village, while concerts and a big screen in the Hoffman-Wood playing field will help visitors to enjoy the event further.
Yorkshire Cancer Research and Pancreatic Cancer Action is even inviting spectators to ride a seven-seater circular bike during the festivities.
The growing popularity of the sport, thanks in part to Team GB’s recent Olympic triumphs and the UK having produced the last two Tour de France winners in Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, is as evident in the Wharfe Valley as it is anywhere else in Yorkshire.
As the proving grounds for professional cyclists including Lizzie Armitstead, of Otley, and Scott Thwaites, of Burley-in-Wharfedale, residents have been getting on their bikes in their droves and painting the town yellow as they do it.
Ilkley Cycling Club is one of the area’s two-wheeled success stories, gaining national recognition for snowballing into the largest and fastest growing cycling club in the country.
A total of 1,260 riders count themselves as members, of which 40 per cent are women, and in the last six months alone the club has swelled by a quarter. Ilkley will also host its first town centre cycle race on days before the Grand Depart on July 1 months after sportive rides such as the Yorkshire Classic set off from the town.
“It puts all your problems in perspective and you’re surrounded by such beautiful countryside in places like Wharfedale,” said the Ilkley club’s chair Stephanie Millward.
“The fact that the Tour is coming through Ilkley is having a really positive impact on the attitude to cycling. It’s amazing the number of people that have become pro cycling.”
Neighbouring Otley Cycle Club is also flourishing. Historically a family-oriented outfit, the club’s membership has doubled to 360 riders in two years.
The town will again host a raft of top cycling races on July 2 before Otley Film Society presents cycling films and Otley Cycle Club hosts a Tour de France presentation at The Courthouse as part of a number of events leading up to the Tour itself.
RACE TIMINGS STAGE ONE SATURDAY JULY 5
Cyclists will ride through Otley at 12:12
The Tour de France publicity caravan will pass by two hours before the riders in each area.
Leeds-Bradford boundary - 12:19
Addingham - 12:33 (Tour also passes through Addingham during stage two on Sunday July 6 at 12:41)