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Mon, 14/07/2014 - 23:32

Tour de France Yorkshire, The ‘grandest’ of Grand Departs

Tour de France Yorkshire, The ‘grandest’ of Grand Departs

“I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you to everyone in Yorkshire who has made this Grand Depart so very, very special.”

These were the words of Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme, who described Yorkshire’s Grand Depart as the “grandest” in the 111-year history of the race.

An estimated 2.5m people lined the route over the weekend as ‘Le Tour’ took in some of the most famous sights and landmarks in Yorkshire. Riders sped through narrow country lanes in the Yorkshire Dales, past the imposing shadow of gothic cathedral York Minster, before ending in the former industrial heartland of Sheffield, with Prudhomme hailing a weekend which was “beyond his wildest imagination”.

“When you said you would deliver the grandest Grand Depart it was the truth, you have raised the bar for all future hosts of the Tour de France,” he added.

After a procession through the streets of Leeds, the 198 Tour riders were met with a warm Royal welcome at 255 year old Harewood House. The Duchess of Cambridge cut the ribbon to officially start the race, against the backdrop of French national anthem La Marseillaise. God Save the Queen then followed as the tour began to feel distinctly ‘Yorkshire’.

The biggest climb of the opening stage was given a Gallic twist as Buttertubs Pass became Cote de Buttertubs, and fans packed the hillside as they do on the mountain climbs of the Alps and Pyrenees. While it may only be an ascent of 4.5km to a height of 532m, the sight of 10,000 spectators crammed onto the tight road led Prudhomme to say, “I think the Buttertubs climb can now call itself the Alpe d’Huez of Yorkshire.”

Yorkshire people took the French naming of their hills to heart, and even renamed some of their pubs and restaurants. The Black Horse became Le Cheval Noir, The White Swan was renamed Le Cygne Blanc, and The Crossed Pipes became Les Pipes Croisees.

From a racing point of view, the biggest story of the weekend was Mark Cavendish’s crash on the opening stage. With thousands of people in his mother’s home town of Harrogate willing him on to victory, the Briton went for a gap in the sprint finish that he later admitted wasn’t there and hit the tarmac. With his Tour over he pedalled forlornly over the finish line to a bigger reception than stage winner Marcel Kittel.

Thousands of fans gathered again on Sunday for the second stage from York to Sheffield. Holme Moss, a moor on the border between West Yorkshire and Derbyshire, saw extra stewards drafted in as an estimated 60,000 spectators descended on the remote spot.

Sheffield, also known as the Steel City for its rich engineering heritage, was where Le Tour waved farewell to Yorkshire. With the finishing line situated in the heart of South Yorkshire’s once-thriving steel industry, it was Italian champion Vincenzo Nibali who showed nerves of steel to burst clear of the pack to win stage two.

Following the huge success of the Grand Depart in Yorkshire, MP’s are now calling for the Welcome To Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity to be honoured. They say that Mr Verity should be recognised in the next honours list and called for a House of Commons debate on the success of the Tour.

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