I want to be able to tell my grandchildren that I was there. And I want my children to tell their grandchildren that they were there too. When the starting gun fires and the Tour de France sets off, I want to bear witness to one of the greatest sporting events of modern times – here, in our very own county. For, in that moment, all the rows over finances, all the moaning about road closures, all the tutting over cyclists clogging up the highway will disappear and we should be proud.
What is it about us Brits? We get all excited about securing a world-class sporting event. We campaign and petition and bang on about our sense of entitlement. Then, when it’s in the bag, we spend the next 12 months moaning about it. I admit it. I had a gold medal in that kind of thing until the Olympic Torch passed through Barnsley two years ago. Seeing it all right here, the athletes waving, the kids cheering, changed my opinion in an instant. Even for an old cynic like me, it was impossible not to get caught up in the irrepressible excitement of the thing.
How can anyone stand back and allow the Tour de France to go by without getting involved? That’s why we’ll be there on Sunday, cheering them on as they pass through Langsett, the closest point to where we live. My eight-year-old daughter, Lizzie, has already co-ordinated her yellow and black outfit. My son Jack, who is almost 12, is compiling a list of team statistics and, I suspect, is running a book with his friends on the favourites. Meanwhile, I’m digging out the folding chairs from the back of the shed and planning the catering for the hours we’re going to be standing in the (fingers crossed) sunshine. My friend is still trying to persuade me to join her family on the nearby campsite, but so far I am drawing the line at a tent.
We Brits might love to moan, but we love an occasion even more. In fact, I’d wager that, like me, half the people who turn up to line the route haven’t got a clue about cycling. Give us a flag and we’ll wave it. Give us a queue for the lavatories and we’ll stand in it patiently and end up firm friends with the person in front of us. Give us a crash barrier to stand behind and we’ll lift up toddlers over heads to get a view to tell their grandchildren about.
Here in Yorkshire we have plenty of pride already. And what an amazing opportunity this is to show off God’s Own County to the rest of the world. The cost of England staging the Tour de France has been estimated at £27m. However, the benefits for Yorkshire cannot be measured in monetary terms alone. What better advertisement for us? If ever anything was going to quash the stereotype of “it’s grim up North”, the Tour de France will be it. I’m delighted that Yorkshire secured the Grand Départ, but I don’t want us to be patted on the head and patronised as a special case. It’s that pride thing again, but I would like us to be judged entirely on our own merits. I have no doubt we will come up to the mark.
There will be people in London watching it set off who never imagined the natural beauty just a couple of hours away on the train. I know I am biased, like you, but where in England beats us for stunning countryside? It would have to rain solidly for the next three years for tourism not to benefit from this exposure. However, the immediate rewards for the regional economy are already obvious. From the cafes and snack bars which will do a roaring trade (there are only so many sandwiches one cool-box can take, let me tell you) to the fully-booked guest houses and hotels to the cycle shops profiting from the renewed interest in the sport.
And then there’s that word we have rightly come to regard with suspicion – legacy. When all the excitement has died down, what will we be left with except happy memories and a load of rubbish to clear up? If the London Olympics taught us one thing, it was how not to manage a legacy. We’re still waiting for the much-anticipated resurgence of sporting activity among young people, for instance. After the Tour de France has gone, we’re promised a 12-year plan which will bring free and cheap-to-hire bikes and a new road race to visit the parts of Yorkshire that missed out this year. We shall see, but meanwhile we should just concentrate on enjoying the moment.
When this newspaper ran a poll asking, “will the Tour de France be good for Yorkshire?”, 71 per cent of people replied with a resounding “yes” and 29 per cent said “no”. I think I’ve made it clear why I’m in the “yes” camp. I’ll put a bet on with our Jack that by next Monday, the doubters will be swayed.