The day the Tour de France came to Ilkley

PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Is there anything quite so quintessentially British as quietly taking your place in the queue and patiently sitting it out?

While shops and eateries in Ilkley made the most of the Tour de France opportunity from the very start, there were some people who didn’t linger to peruse the delicious-smelling bacon butties and coffees on offer in Brook Street and the surrounding areas, but instead made their way straight to the route to set up and wait for the festivities to come to them.

Among the early risers was Clare Boam, who lives in Horncastle but works at Hartley’s auctioneers in Ilkley two days a week. She set up a motley collection of wooden chairs at the end of Little Lane next to the route at 5am.

With a small round table and a drink on hand, she lamented the non-appearance of her friends who had promised to arrive to bring bacon rolls to the spot by 7am. But by 8am there was still no sign of them.

“I think they must be in their beds still,” she said, as she sorted a vast collection of buttons into bags to pass the time.

But Miss Boam was happy to wait, soaking up the atmosphere and anticipation of the main event.

“I think it’s just great for Ilkley. It’s created tourism, opportunities for small businesses and it’s just a fantastic social atmosphere. It’s creating a great community spirit.

“It’s lovely to be here early to see the build up,” she said.

Just down the road into town a camper van was parked only meters from the barriers. It was owned by Liz Watson and Andrew Garner who had travelled to Ilkley from Lancashire on Friday and slept in the van overnight.

The keen cyclists, who set up chairs next to the route at 5.15am, said they would be moving down the road to Addingham for today’s Stage Two to enjoy the Tour’s second take through the normally sleepy village.

Ms Watson said the camper van was well stocked with food and drink to keep them going through the weekend. “And of course, there’s some excellent sausage butties just across the road,” she added, gesturing to Lishman’s, Ilkley’s famous butcher shop, which was directly opposite their camp.

As the time for the caravan’s arrival grew closer the crowds lingering in the town and spectator hub at the Riverside Gardens poured down to line the A65 - with the barriers along the route at least four people deep and in many places more.

Proud to be watching the Tour in Yorkshire was Christopher Grice, who had travelled from Cheshire to his home county to stay with family in Ilkley. Armed with painted faces, bacon butties and huge rhubarb leaves still on their stalks - which were being waved as alternative Yorkshire flags - ‘Team Grice’ embraced the carnival atmosphere in true Tyke style.

“It’s a celebration of Yorkshire,” he said.

Matt Townsend biked the 230 miles from Gloucestershire to join cycling buddies to watch the race. The group were a handful of hundreds of cycling fans who had set up for the night at Ilkley Rugby Club in a pitch organised by the town’s cycling club.

Mr Townsend said his passion for beer and bicycles was being perfectly met by the events in Ilkley - thanks to the many tasty Tour-themed ales on offer.

He initially pledged not to drink too many Mary Jaunes in light of the climb he and his friends were later planning up Buttertubs Pass to follow in the path of the Tour teams, before deciding: “It’ll be fine, it’s only a hill.”

And it was with this community carnival atmosphere and laissez-faire attitude that Ilkley welcomed, supported and celebrated the Tour de France.

The 80,000 or so people in the spa town for the day cheered the caravan past and went wild not only for the athletes when they made their speedy way past, but also for all the supporting cars, bikes and cyclists.

And as the last of the vehicles made their way out of Ilkley and onto Addingham and Skipton, the party continued to celebrate the character and carnival of all things Yorkshire.

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