The streets of Leeds were lined with crowds as the city got its first chance to see cycling’s superstars ahead of the Grand Depart.
Thousands of fans took position along the pavements, office windows, lampposts and walls as a procession of the teams competing in the Tour de France made their way from Leeds University to the city’s new arena.
Among the crowds were people of all ages, and everyone from ardent cycling fans to people new to the sport who were excited to see such a famous event happening in their home city.
David Todd and his wife Hilary have seen Le Tour many times in France making their first trip in the 1980s.
But they said they never expected to be able to watch it just miles from their home. Mr Todd, who is vice president of the Drighlington Cycling Club, said: “It’s is going to be fantastic and hopefully after it’s done it will inspire a few more people to give cycling a try. The sport is already much bigger than it was in the 1980s when we first went to France to watch it.”
The arrival of the Tour has brought with it not just excitement but pride that Leeds and Yorkshire have been chosen to host it.
Leeds firefighter Gavin Hampson had cycled to see the procession before starting his nightshift. He said: “In towns and villages in France they wait for years for the chance to have the race pass through and it is a source of real pride to them, so it is incredible for it to be here in Leeds.”
His colleague Andy Shaw, from Horsforth, added: “It’s just amazing and its going to really special for the county when the television helicopters go above the Yorkshire Dales and the whole world can see what a fantastic place it is.”
Some of the sport’s biggest names were greeted with massive cheers as their teams passed through the city centre. Chants of “Allez, Allez, Allez” rang out from a pub along the route as Alberto Contandor and his Tinkoff Saxo team passed by and there were loud cheers for home favourites Mark Cavendish and Chris Froome.
The Tour de France Grand Depart stage one will begin on Leeds’ Headrow tomorrow before making its way to Harrogate. Day two’s stage will ride from York to Sheffield.
Cavendish, who hopes to win the first stage into his mother’s home town of Harrogate, expects the Grand Depart to be the best ever.
Pre-race buzz begins
There was a holiday atmosphere in Leeds yesterday as people started arriving for the opening celebrations of the Grand Depart weekend.
In City Square, where a huge inflatable yellow bike now stands, a group of tour makers were busy welcoming domestic and international visitors, as well as Leeds residents wanting to know about race times and road closures.
Jill Buckley, of Horsforth, said: “They’re asking for directions and about what’s going on. I think people basically want to know whether they’re missing anything.”
Across the road, people were buying souvenir merchandise from an offical Tour boutique. One of the French vendors, Pierre Bondu, said: “People are asking for information and to talk about the race. They are buying T-shirts, mugs and flags, but we have run out of flags now.”
On the Headrow, a marker of the start line was unveiled by Leeds City Council leader Councillor Keith Wakefield, Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, and Gareth Preston from Jointline, the firm which painted the sign.
Over at the train station, more people were being welcomed by tour makers, including Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Other visitors included friends Julia Pressley and Jennifer Maniscarco, who were arriving for the team presentation.
Jennifer, who is originally from Texas, but has lived in Knaresborough for the past seven years, and Julia, of Harrogate, were both excited about the presentation and the Tour itself.
Julia said: “It’s a once in a lifetime thing and it hasn’t come this close to home before.”
Jennifer added: “We think of Yorkshire as home now and we’re very excited about the Tour.”