Le Tour launch party

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Thousands of cycling enthusiasts gathered outside Leeds Town Hall last night (January 17) to celebrate the Yorkshire leg of the Tour de France 2014.

It was revealed earlier in the day that the opening stage of the Grand Depart will take in much of the district including Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Nidderdale.

The event at Leeds Town Hall attracted thousands of people who braved freezing temperatures to line the streets of snowy Leeds and celebrate.

It has become apparent just how much of a boost it will bring to the region.

“Yorkshire is a land of outstanding landscapes and passionate people,” said Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.

“We have been blessed. We have been called God’s county. And with this event we are insistent on putting Yorkshire on the map.”

Cycling legends Brian Robinson and Malcolm Elliot listened intently at a packed press conference as Yorkshire’s praises were sung.

Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds City Council told the world’s media that a dream had become a reality.

“Today we are literally just metres away from the start of the Grand Depart 2014,” he said. “For many of us this still feels like a dream. We are pinching ourselves for actually pulling this off.

“This is one of Yorkshire’s greatest ever achievements, we will be competing on a world scale at a world class event.

“It’s long overdue that we show the beauty of Yorkshire to the world.”

Christian Prudhomme, Director of Tour de France also took the opportunity to praise Yorkshire’s iconic landscape. He said: “Yorkshire has interesting options for routes and a beautiful landscape.

“I knew Yorkshire but I didn’t realise it was so gorgeous until my last visit.

“Vive la Yorkshire.”

Lord Mayor Boris Johnson appearance via a video clip and was greeted with cheers and chuckles, he said: “This has been the most incredible epoch in the history of cycling.

“It’s going to be a fantastic spectacle of sport.”

Gary Verity, continued by listing things Yorkshire should be proud of, including the Brownlee brothers, Lizzie Armitsted, seven noble prize winners and the man who invented cats eyes in the road, something all cyclists are thankful for.

He told the room The Grand Depart would bring “significantly more” than £100m to the region’s economy, with more than three million people expected to line the route.

The race, he said, would go through Masham - the “heart of the independent brewing industry”, before it entered the “stunning” Cathedral city of Ripon.

On day two, he said, the tour would pass Knaresborough and “Yorkshire’s first tourist attraction”, Mother Shiptons Cave.

Outside the Town Hall the celebrations were finished with a spectacular fireworks display.

Spectator Chris Hartnell said he was a bit “blown away” with the festivities: “I’m not really sure what’s going on to be honest. It’s great though, it’s unbelievable.

“The Tour coming to Yorkshire will bring a global viewing audience. It will be good for promoting just how beautiful the county is.”

Steve Shearsby, who lives in the Saints area of Harrogate, said: “It’s going to be great for Harrogate. There’s such a great turnout here tonight.

“We’ve been watching out for news, I’m a really keen fan and I will be on the route for a few stages. I would like to watch them hill climbing - they will manage it twice as fast as me.

“It’s great news, it will put the area on the map.”

Headingly resident Darrell Bilas went into Leeds just to join the festivities outside the Town Hall.

A keen cyclist he said: “I’m really looking forward to it, I’m going to try out some of the route myself this summer.”