The School Matters Column with Dennis Richards
Surely not. Yorkshire means brass bands and cricket, not cycling. Just three years on and the growing profile of the annual Tour de Yorkshire has cemented the legacy of that never-to-be-forgotten day in 2014.
This weekend the streets of Harrogate were packed again for the end of a bike race.
Again the scenery in Nidderdale had looked its best on national television.
The yellow bikes were out in force again, in fields, and propped up in the most unlikely places.
Eccentric as ever, in one memorable shot, as the peloton raced towards Masham, a giant blow-up Father Christmas created hilarity and bewilderment in equal measure.
Sir Gary Verity and his suave anglophile French Director of the Tour Christian Prudhomme were both in town, and rightly looking on with pride at this further vindication of their visionary decision in 2014.
There was a further French dimension this year. The Mayor of Bagneres de Luchon, Harrogate’s twin town in the Pyrenees, M Louis Ferre, was in town to meet friends old and new.
Accompanying M Ferre, and visiting Harrogate for the first time, were Deputy Mayor M Yves Laval and Cllr Brigitte Lapebie.
Harrogate and Luchon can lay claim to being the oldest twinning partnership in the country, established in 1952.
The original rationale was obvious. Both towns have a “spa” history and both are regional tourist centres. But it is cycling which has given the twinning such an unlikely and timely boost.
Thank you, Sir Gary!!
Cycling aficianados will be well aware that Luchon has an iconic place in the history of the Tour de France.
Chris Froome won a stage there in last year’s race.
Cllr Nick Brown, Mayor of Harrogate, and a staunch supporter of the twinning gave a warm welcome to the Luchon delegation.
There was particular appreciation for the visit of Mme Lapebie.
She is part of a legendary French cycling family.
Her father-in-law, Guy Lapebie, won two golds and a silver for France in the Berlin Olympics in 1936.
Moving from the track to the road, after the war he finished 3rd in the 1948 Tour de France. Older brother Roger won the 1937 Tour de France outright. Brigitte’s late husband Serge, also a decorated French professional cyclist, was tragically killed in a road accident in his early forties.
The Lapebie story is commemorated with a plaque at the summit of the Col de Mente close to Luchon.
It is further commemorated with an annual prestigious cyclo-sportif on the first Sunday in September, “The Lapebie”.
The twinning committee is seeking to enter a team in the 2018 edition.
Twinning has been given a further boost with the growing popularity of French boules at the Pierhead Boulodrome.
A Harrogate team visited Luchon last year and have plans to do so again next year.
Next up is the St John Fisher music tour to Luchon in July. These are testing times for our links with Europe.
After such a wonderful weekend, our French visitors will have returned to France, with fond memories of the fantastic welcome they received from everyone in the town, Harrogate has done its bit.
Fittingly Yorkshire’s own Lizzie Deignan, from just down the road, stormed home first in the women’s race by a clear distance.
In the men’s race, two of the first three places were won by French riders. All in all a great weekend for the Entente Cordiale.