FOR mile upon mile of Yorkshire’s magnificent landscape they were there in their thousands. They stood and cheered, they clapped and shouted. It was a day the spectators who lined the route of the world’s biggest annual sporting event will never forget.
The near 191 kilometre first stage of the Tour de France from Leeds to Harrogate took in some of the most dramatic vistas the region has to offer, and every step of the way massed crowds could be seen taking in the spectacle.
All in all more than one million people lined the route, or crowded into fan parks, over the day, with 230,000 attending in Leeds alone.
Most had waited for hours, and some even queued overnight, to see Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish flash by in just a few seconds. But what a few seconds they were.
Across the region they started arriving from early morning, bagging prime positions to get the best vantage point.
From Moortown to Masham, every wall, step, grass verge and stretch of pavement that could be mounted had been. And everybody who owned a yellow piece of clothing wore it, whether it was a t-shirt, scarf or baseball cap.
What was most striking was the mixture of people crowding in to watch as the peloton swept through market towns, tiny villages and rural beauty spots on its way to a thrilling climax in Harrogate.
Overseas visitors taking in the Yorkshire scenery mixed in with Lycra-clad cycling aficionados but many more seemed to be enthusiastic novices, most of whom would never have seen live cycling before.
Whether beginner or expert, they ensured the nearly 200 riders of Le Tour could not fail to be impressed by Yorkshire hospitality as they roared their approval in full voice.
As the leading cyclists negotiated Buttertubs Pass, in some of the most spectacular scenes of the day, they had barely an arm’s length of room either side as a sea of spectators, 10,000 in all, parted to let them through. It was quite a sight.
On the way out of Leeds, crowds were unbroken all the way towards Harewood, through Moortown and Alwoodley, past Leeds Grammar School, cheering not just the competitors, but the outriding motorcyclists, especially the French gendarmes who worked the route with their Yorkshire counterparts.
One of the gendarmes pulled up by a group of excited children, posed for photographs, and then, smiling, let each of them sound the two-tone siren of his motorcycle. The children had been practising their French, and chrorussed “Merci, monsieur,” as he waved farewell.
It was a day of hot, almost French weather across the region, but Yorkshire’s welcome for Le Tour was warmer still.