A Firsthand Account of the Tour De France in Yorkshire: Grand Depart
Its 6AM Saturday 5th July as we set off from Nottingham for the grand depart of the Tour De France in Yorkshire. Our plan is to head up to the edge of the Yorkshire Dales to the climb of the Cote de Grinton Moor, the final categorised climb on the first day of this year’s Tour before the riders make a fast dash into Harrogate to the finish.
For the last few years my Dad and I have always tried to chase the Tour of Britain. On occasions we’ve seen them go past us 2-3 times but chasing the Tour De France would be an unthinkable task without some form of Police escort. Therefore our plan was to get ourselves a good vantage-point to watch the peloton go past which usually means a trek up to one of the King of The Mountains points.
By 9 Am we’re sat in the Manor Farm Café just outside the village of Bellerby. It’s about a 5 mile walk from here to the top of the Cote de Grinton Moor although the course is less than 2 miles away from where we’re sitting as we tuck into our bacon butties. (It’s butties up in Yorkshire). We were hoping to get a lot closer to the course but there are lots of signs on the roads warning that cars parked on the sides of the roads will be towed away so it’s not worth the risk.
By 9.30 we’re starting the walk up to the course. The race itself is over 5 hours from passing us although you never can tell just how busy it’s going to be. On some of the high mountain finishes at the Tour you often hear stories of people who’ve camped out for days on the climb just to get themselves in a good position to watch the race go by. For us it’s not a lonely walk as we watch hundreds of people on bikes ride past us on the road up to the Cote de Grinton Moor.
By 11.00 we’ve finally made it to the very top of Grinton Moor. We’re actually about 500 metres above the official KOM point but my dad is spent and in need of a rest. There is already a crowd building towards the top of the climb as I spot a mobile café in the distance.
I leave my dad to set up his camping chair and head on down towards the mobile café, promising to bring him back a cup of tea after I’ve ventured down to the Kind of the Mountains point.
By 11.15 I’m at the KOM point and the area is busy. Lots of cyclists are riding the climb before the race starts and spectators mull around admiring the scenery whilst chatting to complete strangers. It’s amazing how a shared interest can break down everyday boundaries. There’s a real buzz to people on the side of the road who want to savour the spectacle of the Tour.
Looking down at the tarmac you can tell a bike race is imminent by the sheer number of words written on the road. There’s a clear favourite too — Mark Cavendish. Despite his upbringing on the Isle of Man, Mark’s mum is from Yorkshire so this must feel as close to a home stage as the Tour could get for the Missile. It’s such a shame that the Tour would end so badly for him close to the finish line in Harrogate on the sprint to the finish. Stage 1 of the Tour de France should have been Mark Cavendish’s day
By the time I returned to my Dad after spending an hour in the queue for drinks its fast approaching time for the publicity caravan to drive past us. Had someone been intelligent enough to set up a mobile bar on the climb they’d have made themselves a small fortune.
The official schedule says 15.15 for the caravan and the anticipation is growing. We all know in honesty that we’re not going to see a huge amount of the event in the grand scheme of things but we all wanted to experience the Tour de France in Yorkshire.
Quickly the publicity is upon us with a huge selection of cars and floats to showcase many French companies with a few British ones adding their own contributions. Yorkshire Tea, McCain and Buxton mineral water are just some of the companies showcased within the Caravan.
The cars fly past throwing out a small selection of freebies. By the end of the experience we’d acquired a Yorkshire Bank wristband, a strange Frisbee, some Haribo sweets (they didn’t last long) and a set of what appeared at first to be matches but on closer examination were actually a set of grow your own herb seed planters from McCain.
An hour later and we’re hearing the helicopters get closer. We’d heard brief reports of how the race was shaping up during the day with initially three riders in a breakaway before the legend that is Jens Voigt decided he would rather go it alone in what is likely to be his last Tour de France. The man must be one of the toughest bike racers the sport has seen and as fans we love him and it’s a fitting end to his Tour de France career to have worn the Polka Dot jersey in his final Tour. Chapeau Jens!
The main peloton flashes past us in literally a few seconds in a cascade of colour. It’s almost impossible to pick out individual riders as even though they’re travelling uphill it’s still at a pretty fast speed. Looking out for Alberto Contador, Chris Froome or Vincenzo Nibali would have simply been pointless unless your camera lens happens to click at the exact right moment and on this occasion mine didn’t.
Seconds after the main peloton fly past us follow a number of small groups who appear to have been dislodged from the business end of the race. Maybe they’ve already done their work for the day by keeping the pace high at the front of the bunch on the orders to ensure the stage finishes in a bunch sprint. Or they simply may not have been able to cope with the pace of the bunch up the climb. Those riders may be able to force themselves back into the main bunch; otherwise it’s a hard 60 or so kilometres for them on their own to the finish line.
After the race flew past that was all finished. Our day of being part of the spectacle was drawing to a close. We still had a walk of over an hour back to the car but this led to one of the most humbling scenes I’ve ever seen as a cyclist. The thousands of cyclists riding past on their way back down the climb. The racers, the enthusiasts and the families with children all flowing down the hill in the knowledge they had witnessed a small piece of history in the making. For the next hour all we saw was a steady stream of cyclists on their way home or to their cars.
Yorkshire put on a fantastic show for cycling, the positive effects of which will likely be experienced for years to come.