Tour de France: Millions expected in Harrogate

Unprecedented crowds could line the streets of Harrogate to cheer the stars of cycling
Unprecedented crowds could line the streets of Harrogate to cheer the stars of cycling

A staggering two to three million people are expected to descend on Harrogate for the first stage of the Tour de France, it has now been revealed.

Details are beginning to emerge of the sheer scale of the world’s biggest cycling race which will arrive in Harrogate next summer, on July 5 and 6, 2014, for the Grand Depart.

So many people will be involved in the race parade, say organisers, that Starbeck’s railway line may have to be closed for a full three hours to allow it to pass through.

“This will be like hosting the Olympics right here in Harrogate,” said Peter McCormick, chairman of the town’s tourism body, Visit Harrogate. “It’s the best thing that’s happened in the district for many years.”

The first day of the Grand Depart, July 5, is to close with a sprint finish on Harrogate Stray. It has now been revealed the race will finish outside Harrogate’s Hotel du Vin. And what’s more, it will return to the area the following day.

“It’s the third most important sporting event on earth, after the Olympics and the Fifa World Cup - and the Harrogate district gets it two days running,” said Mr McCormick.

“This is a huge sporting event, watched by billions of people worldwide. It’s a fantastic opportunity to show the world what a fantastic place the Harrogate district is.”

There is already talk of pop-up hotels being built across Harrogate to accommodate the vast numbers of visitors, with traders now being told entire town centre streets are to be rearranged for the duration of the race.

In a presentation to the Harrogate Chamber of Trade and Commerce on Monday, Welcome to Yorkshire’s marketing director revealed just some of the changes.

Traffic lights and bollards at the bottom of Parliament Street are to be removed, while some roads are to be closed in the days before to prepare for the race.

It’s not just cyclists, chamber members were told by marketing director Peter Dodd, there will be a publicity caravan of 180 cars and floats to entertain the crowds.

Tour organisers are to visit in the autumn to prepare information packages, and talk of roof branding and field art advertising has already begun.

What’s more, said Mr Dodd, there will be a 100 day arts and culture festival for the whole of Yorkshire, beginning on March 27.

“It’s a once in a lifetime event,” said Sir Thomas Ingilby, owner of Ripley Castle which is on the tour route. “And a fantastic opportunity.

“I don’t think people appreciate the full scale of it. But then I don’t think we appreciated the full scale of the Olympics last year until it arrived.

“It’s advertising the district, and indeed Yorkshire, could never afford. The numbers will be overwhelming.”