TODAY marks the start of the biggest and best edition yet of the Tour de Yorkshire. A now four-day event where we will not only be witnessing the strongest line up yet of world class cyclists racing across more parts of the county than ever before, but we’ll also be showcasing the very best of Yorkshire to a global audience of millions.
With upwards of 2.5 million spectators expected over the six races, the Tour de Yorkshire is the UK’s largest annual sporting event. It’s now firmly embedded in Yorkshire’s DNA and part of our identity – a chance for everyone in Yorkshire to celebrate their home county.
Yorkshire can be proud that it has shown leadership to the world in pushing forward the equality in women’s cycling. This year, for the first time, the Asda Tour de Yorkshire Women’s Race is over two days, giving the strong line up of female riders even more parity in terms of media coverage, parcours and prize money.
The finish line of the Tour de Yorkshire is on the exact spot where the Tour de France started on July 5, 2014. That was the official start of the journey that’s seen the profile of God’s Own County raised to an all-time high, and as importantly, the perception of the county enhanced so positively.
Millions of people around the world have now not just heard of Yorkshire but have seen it in all its majestic splendour thanks to stunning images of city, coast and countryside being beamed to 180 countries around the world.
Let’s not forget those iconic scenes of the packed crowds on Buttertubs, Haworth Main Street, Whitby Harbour, Scarborough, Hebden Bridge and Penistone to name but a few. And last year Birstall, a town devastated by the tragic death of their MP Jo Cox, was brought together again in celebration of their community.
What the rest of the UK and the world has also seen is the passion of the millions of people supporting the race at the roadside; people of all ages and backgrounds demonstrating not only their support for the riders and the event but seizing the moment to showcase their street, their village, their town and their community.
Having witnessed over the last few weeks Yorkshire transformed into a sea of yellow and blue, the buzz and excitement ahead of this year’s race is palpable and akin to that of the Grand Départ.
Miles of bunting, thousands of painted bikes, extreme yarn bombing, giant murals and incredible land art like we’ve never seen before, and that’s down to communities coming together, united by something as simple as a bike race but what in essence is so much more than that.
The Tour de France and its cousin the Tour de Yorkshire are about much more than cycling. They are about the history and geography of the region, and social change by uniting the people of Yorkshire around their pride in this special place we call home.
And how much different might it all have been? Just think for a moment had there been no Yorkshire Grand Départ and therefore no subsequent Tour de Yorkshire.
Had the forces that tried to scupper the 2014 Grand Départ succeeded by backing with £3m of your hard-earned money a flawed and doomed bid for a Scottish Grand Départ, there would have been no resurgence in brand Yorkshire and the subsequent economic and social benefits we have seen across the Broad Acres.
Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the grit and determination of many talented individuals and the tenacity of many agencies and organisations, both public and private, won the day.
All of this has contributed to a booming tourism economy in Yorkshire, now worth over £8bn, a rise of £1bn since 2011. Visitor numbers are healthy with people staying longer and spending more.
So again, this Sunday when the vainqueur crosses the finish line outside the Leeds Art Gallery, and that image is the one that sends Yorkshire global once again, hold the thought that Yorkshire grit and tenacity will be required again over the coming months and years for the county to navigate the challenges that will lay ahead. For now though, let’s leave those challenges to one side and let’s be proud of what we as a county have achieved and what we can achieve when we work together. Yorkshire is ready for its greatest ever performance. It’s showtime!
Sir Gary Verity is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.