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Hedge-blog: memories of the Tour de France in Yorkshire

18th July 2014

Tour de France peloton on Cote de Blubberhouses

Two weeks after the Tour de France came through Yorkshire, what are the memories and lasting impressions?

It was a busy time in the run-up to the race, with a lot to plan and write about. On the weekend of the Tour, I had two packed days, cycling to watch the race, and talking about what had happened over good food and beer in the evenings. There wasn't much time to pause and reflect. A couple of weeks later seems as good a time as any to think back to that brilliant weekend.

The weather forecast for the Tour weekend was poor for most of the preceding week, and the rain came in on Friday afternoon. On Saturday morning when I woke up, it was still raining, but it had nearly stopped by the time we began cycling to Harewood. About half an hour before the race arrived, the sky split into clouds to the east, and blue sky to the west. The royals greeted the riders and started the race in bright sunshine.

Tour de France riders arrive at Harewood

The Tour in Yorkshire was about more than the result of the race. I wanted to see as many people as possible out by the roadside, getting a taste of live cycling; and everyone in Yorkshire wanted the county to look gorgeous on TV. That's why it was so important that we had a beautiful sunny day.

Harewood was good, but the crowds were such that I saw more of the back of other people's heads, and their hands and mobile phones reaching up into the air, than I did of the riders. The organisers at Harewood had seen fit to create a huge and mostly empty VIP area in front of the house, so that I (and most other people) saw nothing at all of the presentation of the riders to the royals. Shame on Harewood for that, and for their misleading Festival website, which suggested that you should buy a Festival ticket to see the ceremonial start of the race, when it turned out to be a free event (and the Festival a separate field of tents and shops).

Better than Harewood was the ride back to Harrogate. It was brilliant to be part of the steady flow of walkers and cyclists making their way along an A road closed to motorised traffic.

That afternoon, having had enough of standing on tip toes behind other people, we decided to walk out of Harrogate, as far as necessary to get an unobstructed view of the peloton hammering past on the way to the finish. We went about two and a half miles, past thousands of people lining the road, until we got beyond the New Park roundabout, and part way to Killinghall, and found our own piece of grass verge. 

The peloton were past in flash, but it was exciting. We didn't know who had won at the finish on West Park Stray, but as we walked back, we started to hear rumbings that Mark Cavendish had crashed. It was a great shame, but not enough to spoil a fantastic day. Let's hope he makes a speedy recovery. Maybe we'll see him in the Tour of Britain?

It was a beautiful clear, sunny evening, and The Stray looked wonderful under blue skies, as the TV presenters did their interviews and analyses of the day. What an advert for Harrogate.

On Sunday, we cycled out to the first climb of stage 2, the Côte de Blubberhouses west of Harrogate. One of my friends hadn't ridden a bike for 20 years before this weekend, and he struggled on the climb. He had borrowed a bike of mine - a steel-framed hybrid, which was an 'old man's bike', according to another spectator - and had to put up with shouts of 'come on, Bradley' as he fought his way up the slope. I was worried we wouldn't make it to the spectating point I had found on a previous recce, before they stopped us riding up the road, but we just made it.

Again, the weather held up, with hazy sunshine and warm temperatures. We had a while to wait, but we'd brought coffee, Galaxy cake bars, and a newspaper. There was entertainment, too, as opposite us someone was playing the bagpipes, while his friends were Scottish dancing on the road. Whenever a cyclist (or at one point a runner) came up the road through the crowd, they were cheered to the rafters, as if they were taking part in the Tour.

Bagpipes on Cote de Blubberhouses

We had a good view of a long stretch of road. There was a leading group of seven riders, then the peloton, so we got two chances to watch and cheer. After the Tour had gone, we again had a closed road experience when cycling home.

Of course the Tour de France in Yorkshire was great for cycling fans. But it was a wider success than that. 

The Tour riders spoke of ringing ears, due to deafening cheers all the way for two days in Yorkshire. 

A local association, which looks after gardens where I live, had heard dark warnings of cycling fans parking and camping anywhere and everywhere. They seemed to be imagining Barbarian hordes despoiling their land, and they had drawn up plans to tape off and defend the gardens. After the race, the chairman of the association wrote a mail to the members saying, 'The Tour weekend was a remarkable weekend for Harrogate. I am pretty sure that others will have told those who understandably went away, that they missed a real treat! Fortunately (and surprisingly) the number of people who ventured into Harrogate in cars was lower than expected so the threat of damage to the gardens was not as great as it could have been.'

Some of my neighbours, who had been apprehensive about the Tour, told me what a brilliant occasion it had been. The local MP's blog began: 'How can we ever top Le Tour coming to our district?'

Perhaps best of all, though, my friend 'Bradley' told me that he enjoyed most of the cycling. (I assume the exception was the slog up the Côte de Blubberhouses on my old man's bike), and he was thinking of getting a bike of his own. Maybe there are a few more Bradleys? Certainly, the bike park outside Harrogate Library (pictured below) looked fuller one day last week, than I remember seeing it before.

Bike park outside Harrogate Library

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