The inaugural Tour de Yorkshire cycle race will be mainly policed by a “bubble” of 60 highly-trained motorcycle riders in a change to the long road closures at last year’s Tour de France Grand Départ in the region.
But the senior officer organising the police presence for the three day event next month says the concentration needed to maintain the rolling roadblocks at high speed means riders won’t be able to “high five” members of the public.
Last year’s Grand Départ saw the hundreds of officers responsible for keeping order encouraged to engage with the large crowds and often holding out their hands to be slapped as they rode past.
Many fewer officers will be needed for next month’s event, with 100 neighbourhood policing officers and as many special constables expected to be on duty each day, as well as a 60-strong motorcycle team paid for by organisers Welcome To Yorkshire at a cost of around £300,000.
Rather than close off roads for most of the day as they did during the Tour de France, police will operate rolling road closures and will only be at each point for up to 30 minutes.
Around one million spectators are expected to turn out for the event. Friday, May 1, will see riders racing from Bridlington to Scarborough via Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay before they make their way from Selby to York the following day.
Then, on May 3, the field will set out from Wakefield and speed through communities including Barnsley, Holmfirth, Ripponden, Hebden Bridge, Haworth, Ilkley and Otley bound for a finish line in Leeds’s Roundhay Park.
Assistant Chief Constable Mark Milsom of West Yorkshire Police, who is heading up the policing operation for the three days, said officials had approached policing differently to last year, partly because less money was available.
He said: “In the Grand Départ a lot of our police motorcyclists, because the roads were closed, we did use them around road closures because of the sheer number of people who came. But they did do a lot of high-fiving and all the rest.
“What I would flag up to people is that they really will be earning their corn. They are the absolute provision of safety for that race, and the crowds, and making sure the race goes safely.
“So if people expect them to have loads of time to stop and do some things, they are going to be genuinely occupied. We have to explain that to people.”
Asked if the officers would be posing up for ‘selfies’ with the public, he said: “They will be able to do that at the beginning of the race and the end of the race, but once they are out on the route, it’s a really ‘concentrate hard’ job. The race is at 30mph and they are travelling at high speed in and out of traffic, it’s a skilled job.”
The 60 motorcyclists will be made up or the Central Escort Group, led by a West Yorkshire Police sergeant, and volunteers from the National Escort Group, an organisation that provides skilled motorcycle marshals for sporting events.
According to the Tour de Yorkshire website, most of the rolling road closures will last no more than an hour, “apart from the start and finish lines and some climbs where the road closures will be longer”.
It has also emerged that the 1,100 volunteers who will act as marshals and helpers during the three days have been training at West Yorkshire Police’s state-of-the-art Carr Gate facility, near Wakefield, in what is described a ‘UK first’ training operation.
The force has worked with an expert from Sheffield Hallam University to pull together a bespoke training package involving traffic and crowd management, in the hope that experience gained can help the volunteers at Tour de Yorkshire events in the coming years.
Mr Milsom said the Grand Départ was an “outstanding success” but that police were aware that “there would be the level of money available” this year so would “need to look to do it in a cost-effective way to make it sustainable”.
He said: “We’re losing lots of money, local authorities are losing lots of money, so we always were going to approach it differently. We always knew we could approach it differently.”
He added: “It is a really difficult year for some of the local authorities. Money is really difficult at the moment. It wasn’t really until Christmas time, we definitely knew we would be able to do the race.
“The planning has gone really well. We have been working with Welcome To Yorkshire, we led on behalf of the other forces. North Yorkshire and Humberside have been playing their part. We have just sat down, we have learned a lot from last year and put it into practice.
“Last year there were a lot of people who were quite nervous and apprehensive because it was such a big thing and a new thing, and everyone has been wanting to repeat that success, because we know how much it meant for the communities, and how much it meant for Yorkshire. If we get weather like we have been having we will get hundreds of thousands of people on each day.”
In a message to the crowds expected to attend the three days of racing, he said: “The traffic is not going to be disrupted as much, the crowds are going to be much more manageable, and the traffic side should be manageable, but plan in good time, where you want to watch it and what your day is going to be like. Plan a little bit ahead and give yourself a little bit more time.”