TAKE A bow, Yorkshire, after successfully staging the greatest – and most colourful – Grand Départ 2014 in the 111-year history of the Tour de France.
This was a defining day in the county’s rich history which, believe it or not, actually achieved the impossible and exceeded all expectations at every turn negotiated by the peloton – sun-soaked crowds up to 10-deep in places; iconic images of stunning scenery being broadcast to a global television audience; and top class cycling that was going like clockwork until home favourite’s Mark Cavendish high-speed fall during the frenetic finale in Harrogate that was ultimately won by a totally ruthless Marcel Kittel.
Yet, despite this heart-stopping anti-climax to a dramatic day which actually started with a smiling Cavendish having the proud honour of leading the peloton through the heart of Leeds, words and superlatives fail to do adequate justice to the extent to which Yorkshire people embraved the Tour and showed off the county at its beautiful best to the world.
This spectacular support – the total crowd was estimated to be in excess of one million people – surprised veteran officials from Tour teams who said the carnival-like atmosphere along the entire length of the route compared very favourably to the celebratory mood which is traditionally associated with Paris on the final day of the three week endurance test. Well done Yorkshire.
Even this county’s cynics – and Yorkshire is not short of curmudgeons – put their scepticism to one side and joined the flag-waving mass of humanity in every city, town, village, hamlet and field because they, too, wanted, to be part of an unforgettable occasion and be able to say ‘I was there’.
From the moment Team Sky arrived on The Headrow in Leeds to deafening cheers which were indicative of cycling’s place in the public’s consciousness, this was akin to the Olympics coming here. Have locations like Otley, Ilkley, Skipton and Harrogate ever looked so resplendent in the sun? Probably not. It was the same in the remoter parts of Yorkshire Dales where spectators climbed Buttertubs Pass – or lined the rugged Grinton Moor – in numbers which were unprecedented for the Tour de France in Britain.
It was some sight, complimented by a flock of yellow sheep to add a very Yorkshire twist to a global event, and even eclipsed the presence of luminaries like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who oversaw the official start in the grounds of Harewood House with the able assistance of Prince Harry before heading to Harrogate where the town’s Stray was almost lost under the sheer number of spectators.
And the most priceless part of this day in a million? The overnight rain clouds relenting so television viewers around the world could see God’s own county at its most seductive, and exactly how it was envisaged when Welcome to Yorkshire supremo Gary Verity made the inspired decision to take on allcomers and bring the world’s biggest annual sporting event to this proud region.
Now for day two of the Tour de Yorkshire, a race formerly known as the Tour de France.