A successful staging of the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France in Yorkshire will herald the start of a blossoming relationship that could see the race or similar sporting events come back to the county, organisers say.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme would be open to a return to the Broad Acres in future years should the two stages, to be held on July 5 and 6 next summer, and all the gala dinners and pageants that go with Grand Départ, proceed as planned.
Success for Prudhomme and French-based Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) is not based on finances, but on the number of people who line the route and show their support for the event.
Two million people watched the action when London and the south of England hosted the opening two stages in 2007.
Welcome To Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity, who brokered the deal with Prudhomme and ASO, anticipates that three million people will watch the action from Leeds to Harrogate on July 5, and York to Sheffield the following day.
If the fireworks display outside Leeds Town Hall at the launch on Thursday night is anything to go by, when 2,000 people braved the wintery conditions, then the city and the county has made a promising start.
Securing another high-profile Grand Départ is an option for Yorkshire, but equally as likely would be the White Rose hosting a stage of the race in the future.
Mr Prudhomme said: “Why not? It’s too early because the Grand Départ is still 18 months away.
“But yes, it (the relationship) begins now.
“I can’t say when it would be because one year ago we were talking about 2016 for the Tour being in Yorkshire or Scotland.
“We are working on three editions of the Tour in a row. After that – who knows?
“The world is changing. When Gary and his team came over for the first time, British cycling champions weren’t as they are now; stars, winning everything and winning everywhere.”
ASO, who organise renowned spring cycling races such as the Criterium de Dauphine, Paris-Nice and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, also stage the Vuelta Espana, which is one of three grand tours alongside the Tour de France.
The 2009 edition of the Vuelta Espana (Tour of Spain) began in the Netherlands and a summit finish in France is scheduled for this year’s race. ASO also organises other sporting events like the Paris Marathon.
Mr Verity said that it was not just the Tour they would explore to bring back to the county, and should they be successful, they would look at taking big cycling races to other parts of Yorkshire.
“It could be a stage or a Grand Depart or other things in other parts of Yorkshire that are not being used for the Tour this time around,” confirmed Mr Verity.
Mr Prudhomme and Mr Verity did a whistle-stop tour of key sites on the 2014 Grand Départ itinerary yesterday, with visits to Sheffield and York between which the second stage will be contested.
The overall visit has been classed as a huge success by Mr Prudhomme and the French contingent who visited the region.
“We were very impressed on Thursday,” said Mr Prudhomme, who helped unveil the routes in Paris in the morning before flying to Leeds for another press conference and a gala dinner.
“There were dozens of people working for ASO, sponsors, journalists etc, and every one was impressed.
“There was a lady representing a French company that has sponsored the race since 1981 who was with us on Thursday who said it was at the top level of organisation.
“We feel the passion and the commitment behind the bid.”
And the Tour de France has been greeted with open arms by the Yorkshire community.
Welcome To Yorkshire has invited people to apply to be volunteers during the Tour’s visit to the county between July 3 to 6.
Tour organisers hope to engender a similar feelgood factor to the one generated by the 70,000 Games Makers who made the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games so special.
And already, 10,000 people have applied to become Le Tour Makers.
Mr Prudhomme added: “Ten thousand volunteers already, that’s huge.”