One of the most successful British cyclists in the history of the sport is backing the two Yorkshire Grand Depart stages to set the Tour de France off to an “explosive” start.
Barry Hoban, who won eight stages of the Tour de France between 1967 and 1975, is confident that his home county will host a Grand Depart to remember, with spectators turning up in their millions.
The Stanley-born 74-year-old, who rode in 12 Tour de France, took to two wheels to tackle climbs including Kidstones and Buttertubs Pass as recently as last year during the Cycle Rendezvous Tour as a preview to the Grand Depart.
But having cycled roads that will form part of the Leeds to Harrogate July 5 stage one, and York to Sheffield July 6 stage two since the age of 15, Hoban believes commentators are underestimating the challenge riders face.
He said: “It’s going to be two explosive stages for the Tour de France but I think a lot of people are going to be in for a surprise. I keep seeing comments to say it is a reasonably flattish stage – the first stage is not flat at all.
“There are some lumps in there that are going to hurt a lot of legs – it’s certainly not going to be an easy stage.”
He continued: “I think the field is going to be split to smithereens, there will not be a big bunch sprint through Harrogate.”
And although he is rooting for Mark Cavendish, whose mother is from Harrogate, to win the opening stage, he believes it will be too hilly for him. Hoban is tipping Peter Sagan for glory.
Now living in mid Wales, Hoban is still recognised as a legend of the sport. Only last weekend he was invited to the Gent-Wevelgem Classic in Belgium to commemorate 40 years since he won it.
Hoban’s vast Tour experience has seen him witness crowds 10-deep during iconic French stages – something he hopes will be replicated in Yorkshire this summer.
“The people in the media don’t really appreciate how consumed the British cycling cyclist is and the support they give to the sport. They will turn up in their millions, it will be an amazing thing,” he said.
“It is a financial and economic boost. People wont just go for one day, they will go a couple of days beforehand and ride up the iconic climbs and they will probably take a week off and that will be spent in Yorkshire.”
He also welcomed last week’s announcement that a memorandum of understanding has been signed between Welcome to Yorkshire, British Cycling and Tour organisers ASO that aims to ensure a major international three-day cycle race will take place in Yorkshire from 2015.
Hoban feels the arrival of a new elite race could bring back the days of the UCI Road World Cup Leeds International Classic that raced through the region up until the 1990s.
He said: “The terrain in Yorkshire is ideal, but there has got to be some lumps in the race to make it a hard race. A classic centred on Leeds, I think, would be perfect.”
The former athlete, who retired in 1980, is hopeful that both the Grand Depart and its 2015 follow-up will help spark a cycling legacy in the region but feels the county has a way to go to make hitting the roads on two wheels safer.
He said: “The English Channel could be 3,000 miles wide between cycling on the continent and here. Slowly that barrier is going down but it’s taking time.”
The Specialized Concept Store, in Harrogate, will host an evening with Barry Hoban on May 13 from 7.15pm. Visit www.specializedconceptstore.co.uk/harrogate-store.