Say what you like about the French but 2014’s Le Grand Depart gave Yorkshire the cycling bug, writes Neil Hudson reports
They say what goes around comes around and that’s certainly true when it comes to cycling and Leeds.
Ever since the city hosted Le Grand Depart in 2014, cycling has become something of an obsession around these parts. Not only is the city part of this year’s second annual Tour de Yorkshire, which begins on April 29 and runs through until May 1, but in July, it will host its fourth Sky Ride event. And it is expected the Leeds-Bradford Superhighway cycle route will open later this year.
Excitement has been building in the market town of Otley, which plays host to the start of Stage Two of the race on Saturday 30.
Stage Two is a particularly important milestone, following the recent announcement that the inaugural women’s race will follow exactly the same route as the men’s race and has record prize money on offer.
Former Olympic silver medalist cyclist Emma Pooley will compete alongside Otley’s very own World Champion Lizzie Armitstead and Sir Bradley Wiggins, along with Team Sky’s Lars Petter Nordhaug and current British road champion, Pete Kennaugh, have already been announced by the race organisers as taking part in the men’s race.
Banners, flags and bunting have already been erected around the streets of Otley as the town prepares for final countdown to the event. Otley Town Council, working with Leeds City Council, has organised a variety of activities throughout the day to entertain the crowds between races, including street entertainers, marching bands, buskers and two children’s cycling processions.
Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “We are delighted to welcome the tour to Leeds again this year. There is a huge passion for cycling across the city – evident for the whole world to see thanks to the incredible atmosphere at the Grand Depart in 2014 and last year’s inaugural Tour de Yorkshire. I’m confident the people of Leeds will again turn out in their thousands and do the city proud at this great event.
“This is a great opportunity to put Otley on the map and as with the Tour de France, we know visitors will benefit from a fantastic Yorkshire welcome.”
The cycling trend will roll over into the summer months too, thanks to the city’s fourth Sky Ride event.
Since 2013, more than 24,000 cyclists have taken part in Sky Ride Leeds and nationally, the figure is expected to shoot past 1m this year. The streets of Leeds will be closed to traffic on Sunday July 17 as thousands descend on the city.
Coun Lisa Mulherin, Leeds City Council’s executive member for health and wellbeing and adults, said: “We are delighted to welcome back Sky Ride to Leeds, which, now in its fourth year, has really captured the imagination and inspired so many people of all ages to get on their bikes and have fun.
“The enthusiasm from the people of Leeds to cycling is continuing to grow at a great pace thanks to events that have taken place in the city over recent years such as Sky Ride and the Grand Depart. With Otley also hosting a stage of the Tour de Yorkshire in 2016, this year’s Sky Ride is another fantastic opportunity for people to discover why cycling is such a great activity to take up, whatever your ability or standard.”
Sir Chris Hoy, Sky Ambassador, added: “Over the past eight years, tens of thousands of local cyclists have taken to the streets of Leeds as a result of the successful British Cycling and Sky partnership and we look forward to making 2016’s Sky Ride Leeds the biggest and best yet.”
In Otley, both men’s and women’s Tour de Yorkshire races will start from a closed section of Boroughgate where the inflatable start arch will be situated before the riders follow a ‘ceremonial’ route around the town centre. Spectators will be able to spread out and get a close up view of the riders via; Westgate, Piper Lane, Bradford Road, West Chevin Road, Burras Lane, Station Road, Bondgate, Crossgate, Nelson Street, Walkergate and Cross Green before heading towards Pool on the A659 where the race will officially begin.
The women’s race will start at 8.15am which means these will be affected between 7.45am and 8.45am. The men’s race starts at 2.20pm meaning that the roads will be affected between 1.45pm and 2.45pm.
The market place will be used as the official sign-in position with riders parading along Market Street. A large screen showing live TV broadcast of both races will also act as a focal point in the market place for spectators throughout the day.
A free ‘spectator hub’ will also be located on Garnett’s Field next to the river, showing full TV coverage of both races on the big screen. Food, refreshment and toilet facilities will be available throughout the day.
Riders from the Otley cycle club mini-flyers will set off prior to the women’s race and pupils from all five primary schools in Otley and Prince Henry’s Grammar School will ride out before the men’s race.
Various other events and activities have been organised by the local community, including indoor TV coverage and refreshments, which will be offered at Otley Rugby Club, Otley Courthouse and local churches, shops, cafes and other businesses.