Huge crowds turn out to watch the Tour de France in Yorkshire
PUBLISHED: 12:24 28 July 2014 | UPDATED: 12:24 28 July 2014
Huge crowds turned out to watch the Tour de France sweep through Yorkshire in one of the greatest spectacles the county has ever witnessed. Andrew Vine reports
From the Dales to the Pennines to the cities, they came out in their millions. A vast sea of people, lining main roads and country lanes alike, cheering, waving and applauding in some of the most astonishing scenes Yorkshire has ever seen. For a glorious, inspiring, unforgettable weekend, Yorkshire showed the world how to celebrate, as the county gave the Tour de France the most magnificent send-off in the race’s 111-year history. Enthusiastic crowds roared on Le Grand Depart on July 5th and 6th as it swept through some of our most breathtakingly beautiful countryside, packed onto pavements where people stood often 20 deep, or perched on dry stone walls for the best view of the world’s most elite cyclists as they swept past. The turnout exceeded even the most optimistic predictions, as our county embraced the Tour with wild enthusiasm, as a global television audience of up to three billion people watched.
Everyone who owned a piece of yellow clothing wore it, whether it was a t-shirt or baseball cap, and countless more wore the red-and-white polka dot of the King of the Mountains. The bright colours were part of the carnival atmosphere that Yorkshire’s people created, amazing and delighting the Tour’s organisers with the sheer scale of their celebrations as, for two deliriously exciting days, the county turned itself into a corner of France.
Salutes to Le Grand Depart were everywhere as the county marked its arrival humorously and imaginatively. A giant yellow jersey bearing the words ‘Allez, Alleluia!’ adorned the top of York Minister. In Leeds, the statue of the Black Prince in City Square also sported a yellow jersey. And in Huddersfield, the statue of its most famous son, former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, had a baguette tucked under its arm.
Across Yorkshire, people started coming out early on the first day as the race headed from Leeds to Harrogate, bagging prime positions, bringing with them camping chairs and even stepladders so that they could have the best vantage point.
Leeds city centre was packed as the riders set off, followed by a rolling wave of cheers from the crowds all the way to Harewood House, where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge greeted them with Prince Harry and the RAF’s Red Arrows performed a flypast, trailing red, white and blue smoke as a tribute to both Britain and France. And then the race began in earnest, charging through the jammed centres of Otley and Ilkley, where there was hardly an inch of spare space on the pavements, then into the Dales and the gruelling climb up Buttertubs Pass, where so many people gathered that the riders had to thread their way through the crowd.
The only moment of sadness came at the climax of the sprint finish in Harrogate, when British favourite Mark Cavendish – whose mother lives in the town – crashed, injuring his shoulder so badly that it put him out of the race.
The second day was equally exhilarating as the riders headed from York to Sheffield, on a route that took in some punishing Pennine climbs, including up Haworth’s cobbled main street and the grinding ascent of Holme Moss, where 60,000 spectators had gathered to watch.
It was over too soon. The crowds who made their way happily home had only one wish – that there could have been days more of the excitement and spectacle.
Prime Minister David Cameron, in Harrogate to watch the first day’s racing, spoke for everybody when he tweeted: ‘Yorkshire has done the UK proud’. He was right. Le Grand Depart proved to be one of the grandest episodes in Yorkshire’s history.