Tour de France: Confident Tour will provide a lasting legacy

The Womens Elite race begins at the Otley Town Cycle Race

The Womens Elite race begins at the Otley Town Cycle Race

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Cycling is booming but the task beyond this weekend is to continue that progress. Nick Westby spoke to two men who have been at the vanguard of the sport in this county.

Fifteen years ago there were so few members of Sheffrec Cycling Club that they could all squeeze around just one table at their local pub.

Now they would need to hire an entire venue just to hold a members’ meeting. A growth in membership from eight to 115 in that time is a common theme repeated at cycling clubs across the region.

The Otley Grand Prix, one of the flagship town centre races in Britain, was held last night in front of a record crowd expected to be close to 20,000.

They are the numbers that represent the groundswell of interest in a sport that is booming in this country.

The Tour de France starting in Yorkshire has only served to enhance that, as did the London Olympics of two summers ago.

For the people who are managing that interest, the rise in numbers has been astonishing and welcome.

“We used to sit around one table and discuss where we would have our Sunday ride,” begins Sheffrec secretary Marc Etches.

“Now we have an organised structure with a chairman, captain etcetera and it’s a very well-run operation.

“We even have nine female members, and that’s one of the great things about the boom in cycling the last few years, the uptake in interest among women.

“The general public and motorists are now realising that cycling is here to stay and are reacting accordingly.

“It’s been a massive boom the last few years but it was the Olympics that had the biggest impact; the accomplishments of Sir Bradley Wiggins in London and at the Tour de France in particular.”

Giles Pidcock, the man behind the Otley Grand Prix, has seen first hand the impact of the Tour’s visit to the region, not least with the anticipated rise in attendance figures for last night’s multitude of races.

“The Tour had a massive impact on our race, we changed the date a few years ago to make sure we’d be a part of the build-up,” says Pidcock.

“When Welcome to Yorkshire were showing dignitaries around, they brought a few to our race to show them the kind of show we can put on.

“I’ve been cycling for 32 years and two or three years ago it would never have occurred to me that the Tour de France would be coming through Otley.

“It’s going to be mega. It’s going to be like the Olympics here in Yorkshire.”

Along with established events like the Otley Grand Prix, and the Sheffield Grand Prix which takes place on July 23 and which is growing annually, a number of events have been introduced to commemorate the Tour’s visit to Yorkshire.

Tomorrow, for instance, there is a criteirum in Huddersfield and a hill climb in Sheffield.

“What we want is to see these events on July 4, 2015, as well as this year,” continues Etches, a regional member of the British Cycling board who points to the development of the White Rose Youth League held at closed-circuit track across Yorkshire as further evidence of the legacy in action.

“Hopefully, the Tour de France will have a lasting impact.

“British Cycling want people to continue doing these events for years to come, not just this summer. We have to be mindful of that.”

As much as this momentous occasion is about savouring the moment, for driving forces like Etches and Pidcock, it is about developing the future.

“I think it will endure,” adds Pidcock. “There are a lot of races springing up and they will continue after this weekend. It’s easy to get involved in cycling, you just need a bike.

“There’s lots of momentum in cycling in this county plus we’ll be welcoming visitors from outside who want to race the routes of the 2014 Tour de France for years to come.”