What organisers hoped would be the biggest day yet in the Tour de Yorkshire’s brief history was marred by technical difficulties which meant virtually nothing of either the women’s or men’s race was shown on live television.
With the women racing over the same 136.5km route from Otley to Doncaster that the men would tackle as stage two later in the day - and competing for record prize money - this day was designed to break new ground in cycling both here and abroad.
But although the racing took place without issue and huge crowds once more lined the roads, viewers at home who were expecting to watch both races from start to finish were able to see just a few kilometres’ worth of action.
The airplane used to relay pictures back from the camera bikes and helicopters was grounded with technical problems just moments into the women’s race in the morning - and then after a mammoth effort to fix it - it was forced to land again with a different problem during the men’s race, forcing broadcasters Eurosport and ITV4 to cut away to other programming.
That denied viewers the chance to see Lizzie Armitstead launch a dramatic attack late in the women’s race but fall short as Kirsten Wild took victory, while Danny van Poppel’s first win in Team Sky colours was also missed in stage two of the men’s race.
The frustration of Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Sir Gary Verity was obvious from his Twitter feed throughout the day, though he put a brave face on it by the evening.
“We had huge crowds all the way around, and well over a million people watched two bike races today - the first one creating history with the women’s race, and the second the crowds were even bigger for,” he said. “We had crowds at least as big as the Tour de France and those people had a fantastic day.
“Clearly we are disappointed that the live television coverage came and went and then finally went all together, but our first priority as organisers is safety - the safety of the riders, the safety of the spectators and the safety of the people who put the event on, and that includes the pilots of the plane.”
The plane is owned and operated by a French company hired by race organisers ASO, who have used the plane in question to cover the Tour de France four times as well as many other events.
Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France, said he had never known issues like those seen in Yorkshire in his 30 years’ experience.
After the plane was grounded the first time, specialists flew in from France to fix it at Leeds-Bradford airport, only to see it develop another problem in the afternoon.
The plane has been fixed yet again and by Saturday evening was undertaking test flights to ensure it is ready for use during Sunday’s stage three.
“There will be an operational plane tomorrow,” Verity said. “The contingency plan is to make sure we’ve got a plane that works.
“The plane has been fixed and is up there now being tested now, so if that one works we’ll use that and if not there’ll be a fresh one here to do it.”
Asked to sum up the day, Verity said: “It’s been a bit of curate’s egg. I’ve enjoyed huge parts of it. I enjoyed the massive crowds. I enjoyed what we’ve done in terms of sport, and I’m very proud of what the team have done in terms of women’s cycling and what we can do with that in the future. All those things are positive.
“Clearly I am frustrated because we are very critical and most critical of ourselves and when things don’t go according to plan that is not the best situation, so we’ll beat ourselves up a bit and then we’ll get over it.”