The grandest Grand Depart of the Tour de France

Tour de France, sport, cycling, Tom Earnshaw, Kettle Mag
Written by TEarnshaw

I was a student at Newcastle University when, in late 2012, it was announced that my home county of Yorkshire was to host the 2014 Grand Depart; the opening stages of the Tour de France.

At the time, I was somewhat of a newcomer to cycling, spending my afternoons sat down with my cycling-enthusiast-father in front of the TV, watching any and all cycling events I could to learn the basics.

Fast-forward to 2014, when I was working in my hometown of Huddersfield, I could barely contain my excitement as one of the 3.5 million spectators that watched cycling greats like Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, and Andre Greipel racing down the very ordinary roads that make up the backdrop of my childhood and adolescence.

'Confidence to pull off global events'

I would never have thought being stood on Huddersfield’s ring road, just by Lidl, would have been such an exciting part of my life as a sports enthusiast. And that comes down to the brilliance of the race itself. The Tour de France is to cycling what Wimbledon is to tennis; quite simply, the pinnacle event within cycling’s annual calendar.

When the race came to the Yorkshire countryside in early July 2014, the people of Yorkshire did what the people of Yorkshire always do; they dug deep and made sure everyone knew just how good we are as a people. No half measures could be seen.

“The people of Yorkshire and the whole UK came out to support the race. It really gave Yorkshire the confidence to pull off global events like this,” said Nick Howes, Head of Sports Media for the Tour de Yorkshire and Welcome to Yorkshire.

He added: “Prior to 2014 I don’t think [Yorkshire] had done anything like this. It has given the county – and us as a company – the confidence to dream big and put on events like this knowing we can pull them off.”

Welcome to Yorkshire is the team behind the hugely successful Grand Depart and the Tour de Yorkshire, the spinoff race that since 2015, has continued to entertain millions throughout the Yorkshire counties. It returns for a third successive annual race in April 2017.

“The race was born out of the legacy of the 2014 Grand Depart,” Howes explained, “what Christian Proudhomme described as the grandest of Grand Departs for the Tour de France. For the Tour de Yorkshire this year, we want it to be the biggest and best one yet.”

While many might have said the people of Yorkshire had done their duty once God’s Own Country said au revoir to the Grand Depart, the people themselves thought differently.

Embracing the sport

The inaugural Tour de Yorkshire saw 1.5 million roadside spectators, a number which increased to 2 million in 2016. The second race also saw 11.4 million people watch the race on TV in 178 countries, whilst generating £60 million for the Yorkshire economy.

Darren Stringer is co-founder of Kirklees Cycling Academy, a West Yorkshire-based cycling club dedicated to training and developing riders between the ages of six and 18.

“After each major sporting event, including the Grand Depart in 2014 and since then the Tour de Yorkshire and Tour de Britain, we’ve noticed that we get between six and 12 new people approach the club to get involved with cycling,” Stringer said.

He added: “We’ve had to do virtually no advertising at all.”

And whilst the Tour de Yorkshire would be more than enough of a successful legacy for the 2014 Grand Depart, its legacy has gone beyond the world of just cycling. After the 2016 Rio Olympics, Leeds City Council approached Welcome to Yorkshire to organise Yorkshire’s Rio Heroes Homecoming Parade.

“We had to organise that with 3 weeks’ notice,” Howes said. “We got a good 90 to 95 percent of all Rio medallists out that night and the people of Yorkshire turned out in their thousands, with close to 40,000 there for the open top bus parade around the centre of Leeds.”

“It’s a confidence thing,” Nick stressed. And Nick is right. Yorkshire is a beautiful place full of proud, talented folk. Since 2014 there has been an added sense of this ambition and pride, so it was no surprise when, in late 2016, Yorkshire was successful in their bid to host the 2019 UCI Road World Championships. 

The winning bid was greeted with warmth by three-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, who tweeted: “There won't be any complaints about the lack of spectators.”

Howes said: “We now see the next three Tour de Yorkshire events as dress rehearsals for [the world championships]. This is the first time I’m going to be involved with the Tour de Yorkshire at Welcome to Yorkshire – before that I worked for Team Sky – but even then it made you so proud to see Yorkshire folk turn out.”

He added: “Even though the race was on, it was great to see how people embraced the event and sport as a whole.”

The Tour de Yorkshire is from 28th April to 30th April. The race will start on Yorkshire’s east coast at Bridlington and finish in the heartland of Yorkshire’s past industrial might, Sheffield.

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