Tour de France: Countdown begins in Harrogate

The largest sporting event the district has ever seen is just months away.

Harrogate got a taste of things to come when cycling legends joined the people behind le Tour Yorkshire at a major tourism conference.

The finale of the  Y14 show with Alister Griffin and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Harrogate International Centre.  27 March 2014. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The finale of the Y14 show with Alister Griffin and the Grimethorpe Colliery Band, Harrogate International Centre. 27 March 2014. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Laura Hill reports from Harrogate International Centre.

Thousands of people packed into the Harrogate International Centre (HIC) to mark the 100 day countdown to the Tour de France in Yorkshire.

The day marked the official start of Yorkshire Festival 2014, and included a world-first performance of the official anthem.

Chief Executive of Welcome to Yorkshire Gary Verity declared: “It is so much more than just a bike race.

“I have never seen anything before that everyone has got behind in such a uniform fashion.”

He declared: “There will only be one winner in the Tour de France and that is Yorkshire.”

A new annual race for Yorkshire

Plans for a new major international three-day cycle race to be hosted in Yorkshire were announced at the 100 day countdown to the Tour de France.

Welcome to Yorkshire, British Cycling and Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) announced plans to bring the world’s elite stars of cycling to the back to Yorkshire on an annual basis from 2015 for a new three say race in the professional cycling calender.

Mr Verity said:“The Tour de France is the start of it. When Yorkshire comes together and works together we can achieve very great things.”

The memorandum of understanding between the three parties was signed last week and the organisations have said they are committed to working together to create the annual event.”

signed today, sees all three organisations commit to working together to create an event.

British Cycling director of cycle sport, Jonny Clay, said: “This is good news for cycling fans across the country but particularly in Yorkshire, where interest in the sport has rocketed thanks to the Grand Départ.”

Although the exact details of the race are still under wraps Mr Verity said: “It has the potential to take in wider parts of the county and we look forward to announcing more details in due course.”

“We are working closely with the ASO and British Cycling to continue the lasting legacy of Yorkshire’s Grand Départ by delivering this new race for Yorkshire from 2015, which will rank as a major new addition to the global cycling calendar.”

‘The grandest Grand Départ’

Mr Verity promised the two thousand people at the Y14 conference that Yorkshire would deliver ‘the grandest ever Grand Départ in the 111 years of the race.’

The stunning scenery of the route, which passes through district’s countryside on the first day, was praised by race organisers.

Pierre-Yves Thouault, deputy director of the Tour de France said: “The landscape will be amazing, and most importantly it will be amazing for TV broadcast.

“We are very confident and very optimistic for the Grand Départ. We say if the Grand Départ is a success then the Tour is a success.”

Christian Prudhomme told the packed out auditorium by video link that the organisers had chosen Yorkshire for the Grand Départ because ‘it is gorgeous.’

He said: “It has the history of cycling but most importantly it has the passion, the passion for cycling.”

More than 35,000 people applied to be official Tourmakers and 12,000 have been chosen and tasked with welcoming thousands of visitors to the county during the Grand Départ in July.

Brian Robinson, the first Briton to ever win a stage of the Tour de France said he knew everyone in Yorkshire would be behind the race in 100 days time.

The 81-year-old was given a round of applause by the audience when he revealed he still cycles around 40 miles, ‘a couple of times a week’.

He said: “I never, even dreamed this would happen in Yorkshire. These are my old training grounds, a long time ago I know them inch by inch but I never dreamed this would happen.

“I didn’t think in 1958 that world’s best cyclists would one day be racing here in Yorkshire.

“With 100 days to go everyone will be behind it.”

The legacy of le Tour

Wallace Sampson, chief executive of Harrogate Borough Council said the legacy of the Tour de France in Harrogate was as important as the race itself.

He said: “It is really exciting with 100 days to go.

“The legacy is as important as the race, that is why the council has given so much support.”

He added: “We have Visit Harrogate who have an important part to play to keep drawing visitors to the district so we really put Harrogate on the map.

“It will not only leave a business or tourism legacy, the council are working hard to ensure that there be a cycling legacy promoting healthy lifestyles as well.”

More than 23,000 knitted jumpers have been handmade for a bunting project which Mr Sampson proudly says started with an idea in Harrogate Borough Council’s parks and gardens team.

He said: “It has had am amazing response.

“I think we will more than prove ourselves this year, it will be a fantastic day not only for everyone in Harrogate but for all the thousands of people visiting Harrogate.”

Mr Verity told the Advertiser that the impact of the Tour de France in Harrogate was already being felt.

More than two thousand people attended the Y14 tourism event at the HIC along with five international television station crews, something Mr Verity said wouldn’t be possible without the Tour de France.

He said: “It will raise the profile of Harrogate, it will give Harrogate an opportunity to capitalise on that and to say, ‘You have seen what we can do with something like the Tour de France, what else might we want to do’.

“The legacy will take place on so many different levels, it will take place on a business level - businesses generally will already be getting a bounce from that and hopefully that will continue for years to come.

“From cycling point of view, you are already seeing it, you can see more people out cycling now.

He added: “From tourism point of view, if you can’t capitalise from having the Tour de France here then you never will capitalise on anything.”


Pro cycling race for Yorkshire from 2015

Y 14 as it happened

WATCH: Tour de France anthem

VIDEO: Nick Clegg talks le Tour