‘Now let’s become cycling capital of Europe’

There was no need for the hard sell when it came to staging the first Tour de Yorkshire legacy race.

By Jonathan Brown
Tuesday, 21st April 2015, 1:49 pm
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, at Buttertubs Pass between Hawes and Swaledale
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, at Buttertubs Pass between Hawes and Swaledale

The helicopter rides and Michelin-starred meals that Tour de France bid mastermind Gary Verity enlisted to canvas support from the great race’s French chiefs have entered county folklore but after the grandest Grand Depart in history, cycling was always going to return.

The efforts of Welcome to Yorkshire’s 50-year-old chief executive reaped tremendous rewards in 2014 – a £102million economic boost for Yorkshire was a testament to the coup.

A legacy race has always been part of the plan and this summer some of the world’s greatest cyclists will return to the county for three days of racing.

A field boasting the likes of British Olympic heroes Sir Bradley Wiggins and Yorkshire’s Ed Clancy as well as world-renowned sprinter Marcel Kittel is now on the horizon. One thing is for sure, the debut Tour de Yorkshire is no weak afterthought.

“We were very keen it wouldn’t be inconsequential,” Mr Verity said. “It won’t be as big as the Tour de France but it will still be a significant event in the UK this year.

“It’s the biggest cycling event in the UK this year with 144 riders, eight riders a team - that’s 20 per cent bigger than the Tour of Britain.”

He continued: “Our ambition is to make Yorkshire the cycling capital of Europe and we have to have a big annual event to do that.”

Riding high off the back of the universally successful visit of the Tour de France, it seems local authorities were understandably queuing up to be part of the Tour de Yorkshire.

Hosts Bridlington, Scarborough, Selby, York, Wakefield and Leeds were chosen and Tour owners Amaury Sport Organisation helped to come up with three varied stage routes.

“For those individuals over in Bridlington, this is their Tour de France – they have really got behind it. In Barnsley and Wakefield it is something they will go to town on big style,” he said. “We have already had towns and cities approach us asking to be part of the 2016 race.”

And while the endless Tour bunting is yet to return, confidence is high that a field of world class riders will help draw out the crowds in scenes reminiscent of July 5 and 6. Organisers initially stated they believe the race will attract around a million roadside spectators over the three days.

“We have put that figure out there and anticipated that before we knew Sir Bradley was riding and, assuming everything goes to plan and he turns up to ride, we will see a much larger number than that,” said Mr Verity. “You will remember the ‘Where’s Wiggo?’ signs on the road and this will probably be the last big road event before he trains for the track in Rio. We are going to see a piece of history.”

He claims to be aware of bookings from international visitors travelling from as far afield as Japan, Scandinavia, France and Germany to see the riders roll through in person as TV viewers watch on from 140 countries worldwide. Yorkshire will once again be in the limelight.

Although the true cost of the race is not yet known, given that it is backed largely by private sponsors alongside contributions from local authorities, it is believed that the event will come in at a snip in comparison with the £27m Grand Depart.

Mr Verity said: “Proportionally you could say it has the potential to be as significant as the Tour de France. It wont be as big as the Tour but it could be £30m or £40m given the right weather and conditions.”

And the future of the Tour de Yorkshire, which he describes as this year’s “antidote” to the politics of the general election, is already high on the agenda for Mr Verity. Revealing that the initial three-year contract for the event is in reality a 10-year agreement, the tourism chief is confident that the event will remain as long as there is a demand for it. It seems the options going forward are endless.

“The only fixed criteria is six start and finish points and then we have configuration.

“You can do flat and lumpy stages and very lumpy stages,” he said. “There’s no reason why the Tour de Yorkshire has to be exclusively in Yorkshire like the Tour de France doesn’t.

“There’s no reason why we can’t start in North Lincolnshire one year for example. There’s not end of possibilities.”

Hinting at the possibility of the race revisiting South Yorkshire locations such as Sheffield and rolling through Hull in future years, it seems given a bright debut the race could have a long and distinguished future.

But after home favourite Mark Cavendish’s dramatic stage one fall last July, there are far more immediately pressing issues for Gary Verity – both the fan and the organiser. He added: “Wouldn’t it be great if the first winner of the Tour de Yorkshire was a Yorkshireman?”