Juliette Bains: Pedal-powered pride will be real legacy of the TDF

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OK, I’m going to be brave and put it out there. I’ve never really got cycling.

I realise with the Tour de France rapidly approaching, carrying with it an unstoppable juggernaut of pedal-powered positivity, that may sound almost like sacrilege.

But before I’m banished from the city forever, let me clarify that it’s not the whole TdF frenzy that I’ve found a bit confusing.

No, it’s more about how a herd of cyclists speeding past us in gravity-defying lycra could appeal as a spectator sport, persuading people to line the streets in their thousands, only to watch the athletes whizz by in a brightly-coloured blur.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the incredible skill and endurance involved.

And I guess I’m not totally alien to the concept of cycling as such – I do own a bike.

The flat-tyred rust bucket is an established fixture in the back garden, and is now home to a small community of spiders and snails.

So in all probability, my problem with the sport is more likely due to my exercise phobia rather than a reflection on the event itself. But even I haven’t been able to avoid having my heart melted by some of the Tour de France fever that has swept Leeds this week.

Take, for example, the group of knitting nannies who recently hit the headlines. A small group of pensioners from Holbeck Elderly Action Aid and Holt Park Active have spent weeks making yellow jumpers for the statues on City Square.

The normally grumpy-faced figure of Edward the Black Prince has subsequently been transformed into a cheery TdF sentinel. All it took was some elbow grease and 30 balls of yellow wool to create his two metre-long jersey, which was fitted onto the statue earlier this week using a cherrypicker.

One of the square’s nymph monuments has also been given a woollen makeover, which it looks like she may well have needed as she appears quite scantily clad to start with. Thinking about the team of dedicated knitters, working away and spurring each other on to finish the jersey in time really makes me smile.

If that isn’t enough to make you go ‘aaw’, then go and see it for yourself, and I defy you not to smirk at the sight of the usually stoic statues playing their part in the festivities.

Then there’s people like YEP reporter Jonny Brown, who hadn’t been on a bike since he was a child but completed the 123-mile first leg of the TdF route a couple of weeks ago – raising £1,000 for charity.

Seeing someone go from a complete novice – like most of us – to taking on and completing an exhausting, 16-week challenge like that says so much about the power that the Tour de France really has.

Whether you’re a fan of cycling or not, you can’t deny there’s a sense of excitement in the air in Leeds at the moment.

Pubs with bunting in the windows, TdF-themed treats in shops or yellow jerseys on statues, there’s no escaping the sense that something big is on the horizon. Whether old or young, fanatical cyclists or sport-phobes, the TdF is something everyone is getting involved with – and that’s an exciting thing to feel a part of.

If I’ve learned anything from my time in Yorkshire, it’s that you lot are incredibly proud of where you come from, so it’s no real surprise that Leeds is getting behind an event that will show off their city to the rest of the world.

That’s the real power of these global sporting events – not just what it can bring to the economy but the sense of camaraderie and community spirit that comes with them.

Tens of millions of people are expected to tune in to the race at the weekend and that’s a lot of eyes on the city.

I’m sure Leeds will give them a warm Yorkshire welcome – and a show they won’t forget.

REVELATION: Mateusz Klich in action. PIC: Tony Johnson

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