Video: Countdown begins to Tour de France for Leeds and Yorkshire

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Let’s show Leeds at its finest – that was today’s rallying cry as the countdown to the Tour de France’s money-spinning visit to the city got under way in earnest.

There are now just six months to go until the first stage of the world’s most famous cycle race starts in Yorkshire’s unofficial capital.

Cyclists pass Chelker reservoir between Addingham and Skipton which is used as part of this year's first stage of the Tour de France from Leeds to Harrogate.  Pictured are Tom Barras, Simon Gueller, Reg Haigh and Scott Thwaites. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

Cyclists pass Chelker reservoir between Addingham and Skipton which is used as part of this year's first stage of the Tour de France from Leeds to Harrogate. Pictured are Tom Barras, Simon Gueller, Reg Haigh and Scott Thwaites. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

And city council leader Coun Keith Wakefield wants people across Leeds to pull out all the stops to make sure July’s event lives up to the hype.

He said: “Now we are into the new year and with six months to go we can start counting down the days with huge excitement to the Grand Depart of the Tour de France coming to Leeds and Yorkshire.

“It is going to be an incredible event to be part of, and everyone in the city can get involved in lots of different ways.” Amid the hoopla, however, council bosses are under no illusion about the size of the task that awaits them.

A report giving details on Leeds’s plans for hosting the race admits “much work is still to be done”.

But it also makes clear that significant steps have already been taken in preparing for an occasion that should be worth more than £100m to the UK economy. A company called TdFHUB2014 Ltd has been established to oversee the delivery of the two Yorkshire stages of the Tour.

Owned by funding body UK Sport, it is based at Leeds Town Hall and is headed up by chief executive Nicky Roche, formerly director of operations for London 2012 at the Government Olympic Executive.

A report issued by the company over the festive period says that plans for the race are “on time and on budget”.

Achievements during the last 12 months, according to TdFHUB2014, include finalising the event’s route and funding.

In Leeds, work has already started on a £400,000 push to bring the city’s roads up to scratch for the Grand Depart. Places earmarked for improvements include Eastgate in the city centre and Scott Hall Road at the King Lane roundabout.

Other elements of the programme for the next six months include:

Ensuring all residents, communities and businesses who will be affected by road closures during the event get full details about what they can expect by March or April;

Providing spectator ‘hubs’ at Scott Hall playing fields, the Harewood estate and Otley in an attempt to ease crowd pressure on other sections of the route;

Coming up with a ‘city dressing’ scheme so that Leeds looks its best for its moment in the global spotlight;

Taking part in a 100-day cultural festival that will run from March 27 up to the Grand Départ.

By early Spring, yellow flowers should also be bursting through along the route following a Royal Horticultural Society-backed planting campaign. Another early sign of Tour activity will be the assembly of its ‘publicity caravan’ on the site of the old Leeds International Pool. It will consist of 180 floats and will precede the cyclists on each stage of the race, handing out souvenirs to spectators.

It will transfer to Woodhouse Moor on the morning of Saturday, July 5, then head into the city centre. That day will see all of the cyclists signing in at Victoria Gardens and the ceremonial start of the Tour on The Headrow.

During an initial non-racing stage, the riders will travel along Eastgate then up Scott Hall Road and Harrogate Road through Moortown to Harewood. There, they will take in the Harewood estate then pedal back out onto the A659 for the competitive start of the race.

It will run through Otley, Ilkley, Skipton and into the Yorkshire Dales before returning south to the finish point in Harrogate. Sunday’s gruelling second stage will run from York to Sheffield.

Volunteers want to make the difference

THE GOODWILL generated by the Tour de France’s visit to Yorkshire has been highlighted by the response to a call for volunteers to help it run smoothly.

Organisers want to recruit 10,000 people to act as Tour Makers – the Grand Depart’s equivalent of the Games Makers from the 2012 Olympics.

By the time applications for places closed on December 31, however, around 26,000 people had registered.

They will now be whittled down to a 10,000-strong group who will be given uniforms and trained by Leeds-based supermarket giant Asda.

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, the tourism agency that led the county’s bid to host the Grand Depart, said: “We’ve had an overwhelming response.

“It clearly demonstrates not only how excited and passionate people are about the Tour de France coming to Yorkshire, but also their willingness to get out there and get involved in volunteering.”

Leeds’s hotel trade looks set to be boosted by fans heading to watch the Tour. Gordon Jackson, chair of the Leeds Hotels and Venues Association, said: “Six months ahead we’re excited and optimistic. We are already seeing a distinct increase in bookings and there’s a real feeling of excitement among my colleagues throughout the city.”

Arena looks presentable

LEEDS’S First Direct Arena will take centre stage when it hosts the traditional Tour de France presentation ceremony.

Teams and riders will be presented to the public at the 13,500-capacity venue on Thursday, July 3.

Ben Williams, the arena’s general manager, said: “It’s an honour for us to host this historic event on the eve of the world’s largest annual sporting event coming to our county.

“We are ready, excited and raring to go. We have already proved that we can not only host the world’s biggest acts, but make it a memorable experience for them too – and that’s our aim with this.”

The event will be overseen by Martin Green, who was head of ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics.

Mr Green, who took his masters degree in theatre studies at Leeds University, said: “This is a real opportunity for us to showcase Yorkshire and launch this global event in a big way.

“The arena will provide the perfect stage for this and drawing on my experiences from the London 2012 Olympics, I’m sure it will be an event to remember.”

People who want to register an interest in buying tickets for the ceremony are asked to go to the web page.

HELPING HAND: Ben Wilson, MD at MPM, with Victoria Hopkins, MD at Hopkins Catering. PIC: Tony Johnson

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