A Grand Départ without parallel

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IT IS the Gallic touches to Yorkshire’s very own Grand Départ that help to illustrate how people from across the region, and from all walks of life, have embraced the infectious spirit of the Tour de France – and the palpable pride that is being derived from this great county actually hosting the world’s biggest annual sporting event this weekend.

The French baguette neatly placed under the arm of Harold Wilson’s statue in Huddersfield; the symbolic yellow jersey adorning the Edward The Black Prince statue in Leeds; the replica Eiffel Tower in Burley in Wharfedale; the Peak District cottage transformed into the red and white polka-dots of the King of the Mountains jersey; the elegant bicycles which have sprung up on roadsides; the freshly-painted trains in a yellow livery carrying the slogan ‘Taking you to the Tour’; the humorous road markings chalked on the lanes of the Dales are also helping to create a distinctive French flavour to a very Yorkshire event.

And so the list goes on as Yorkshire welcomes the world to God’s very own county with all the warmth and bonhomie which helped to make the 2012 Olympics such a spectacular success. So it should. For this weekend is, in every respect, Yorkshire’s Olympic moment and a once-in-a-generation chance to showcase its unique scenery and character to a global audience – even the sheep and alpacas painted in the peloton’s distinctive colours appear to appreciate the sense of occasion and anticipation.

This has already been acknowledged by a significant number of Tour riders and race legends who were taking ‘selfies’ at Thursday’s spectacular Team Presentation which set a new benchmark for such events – they clearly share the excitement and enthusiasm of the millions of spectators lining the region’s roads today and tomorrow for this unrivalled occasion.

This vividness also helps to reinforce the view that Yorkshire is a dynamic and forward-thinking county which is at its very best – and strongest – when it pulls together.

Of course, this journey of a lifetime would not have been possible without Welcome to Yorkshire and its indefatigable chief executive Gary Verity having the vision to bring the Grand Départ to the region – and his characteristic refusal to accept ‘no’ for an answer. Perhaps this approach should be heeded when this county next finds itself fighting for scraps, and recognition, from Whitehall Ministries.

It has also required countless local authorities, and other agencies, to pull together with commendable unity of purpose. This bridge-building can only be beneficial when the region’s political leaders return to their desks on Monday and contemplate how the race can be used to attract more jobs and investment to the area.

Then there are the people, whether it be the army of Tour Makers making sure Yorkshire’s guests are treated royally or the volunteers who have created a kaleidoscope of colour with their creative use of bunting along the route. The very essence of this celebration, these may be small gestures on their own but the cumulation of these combined efforts is incalculable.

And finally the cyclists. This Grand Départ would not be possible without Britain becoming the fastest nation on two wheels and the Tour de France coming to terms with its tainted past and the shame caused by drug cheats. Without cycling turning its back on the past, the Tour would not now be in a position to push back the boundaries of geography by starting at its most northerly location in history – and for Mr Verity to proclaim that this Grand Départ will come to represent “a defining moment, if not the defining moment, for the people of Yorkshire”.

Already it is a Tour like no other. Allez Yorkshire!

On a sticky wicket: A weekend for common sense

THE Tour de France has left some on a stickier wicket than others – Dales Cricket Club has issued a SOS for players because so many of its regulars cannot leave the North Yorkshire village of Reeth to fulfil a crucial away fixture because the travel restrictions associated with the Grand Départ.

Inevitably, there will be a tiny handful of people who will bemoan the inconvenience caused by the cycle race, but most people have embraced the pragmatism that has been demonstrated by Reeth’s stumped cricketers.

On a weekend when Yorkshire’s world-famous hospitality will be to the fore, the Grand Départ needs to be a triumph for common sense rather than being remembered for those officials who might the occasion as an opportunity to be over-zealous in the enforcement of rules and regulations, such as those who saw fit to leave parking tickets on Tour vehicles left at a Leeds hotel following Thursday’s team presentation.