Gary Verity: A county of champions (with video)

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IT is the start of a New Year, a time which brings hope, new goals and resolutions for the 12 months ahead. Here in Yorkshire we have big plans in the pipeline and without a doubt 2014 will be a year like no other.

It’s been incredible to see how the county has entered into the Tour de France spirit, the buzz of excitement that is rippling across communities who are getting ready to welcome the world’s largest annual sporting event.

The Tour de France will hit Yorkshire in six months' time

The Tour de France will hit Yorkshire in six months' time

And what a journey it’s been.

Three years ago, we had a dream to bring the Grand Départ to Yorkshire and now that dream is about to come true.

The last year has seen the Welcome to Yorkshire team deliver nearly 100 roadshows to over 5,000 businesses across the county to advise on how they can make the most of this major international event.

The feedback and plans to ensure the opportunity has been capitalised on and maximised are truly phenomenal.

From the big screens, the pop up camp sites, to the mini festivals and the towns and villages who are working to turn Yorkshire yellow, everyone is pulling out all the stops to make this the best Grand Départ the world has ever seen. It truly will be Yorkshire’s moment to shine.

We hope to see a carpet of yellow flowers surround the routes to give the wow factor for when the crowds come and the cameras flash.

Planting work has already begun for this after Welcome to Yorkshire joined with the Royal Horticultural Society to encourage and advise amateur and professional gardeners to get involved.

As the shoots begin to burst through in early Spring, there will be work under way in studios across the county as the arts and cultural communities get ready for the biggest festival Yorkshire has ever seen 100 days before the Grand Départ on March 27. This will cement Yorkshire’s position as the cultural heartland of the UK.

Last summer we asked artists and organisations to bid to be part of the project which will be the first ever cultural festival to run alongside the Tour de France. Backed by the Arts Council England, the response was incredible; the standard and wealth of talent is truly staggering.

There will be major commissions, ground-breaking new work and pieces that will bring an added international spotlight to the county’s arts scene.

Add to that hundreds of events and projects in towns and villages along the Grand Départ routes and Yorkshire will be alive with Tour fever for months before the race has even begun.

Next week will see the official unveiling of the festival’s title and big-name sponsor, we can reveal the full programme of what will be happening at the end of this month.

The festival itself will be launched in the beautiful settings of Ripon Cathedral where the official Le Grand Départ 100 Days Dinner will mark the count down to the event.

But we’re not just looking at the build-up and the event itself, it’s also the legacy and the imprint that hosting the Grand Départ will leave on Yorkshire’s DNA across the arts, business, trade and industry, tourism and cycling.

In November, the Grand Départ legacy team unveiled Cycle Yorkshire – the unifying identity of the county’s legacy work.

The aim is to create a cycling legacy for Yorkshire children and their families, to get people on their bikes to get fit, for sport and for fun. The first ever educational pack dedicated to the Tour de France has been produced by the City of York Council to support this goal. Already, it has been seen by thousands of school children and downloaded around the world. The free pack is the first initiative to be showcased as part of the region’s commitment to building a 10 year cycling legacy in Yorkshire.

We will deliver a world’s first bike bank scheme where every child in Yorkshire will have access to a bike. We opened the first one in York in the summer and would encourage more outlets and businesses to get involved.

There are so many lives that the Tour de France is set to touch and, most poignantly, it will help a charity close to my heart. Marie Curie Cancer Care is the official charity partner of the Grand Départ, a partnership I am proud of.

The Tour de France effect is not just touching countless communities, it has also helped elevate Yorkshire’s profile to new heights.

We were named the Lonely Planet’s third best region in the world to visit in 2014 and in the top ten best world holiday destinations 2014 by AOL.

Leeds was proud to host the high profile 60th BBC Sports Personality of the Year show at the city’s brand new First Direct Arena. Welcome to Yorkshire won World’s Leading Marketing Campaign at the World Travel Awards for the fourth year running.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Tour de France has played a huge part in us landing these incredible accolades which has grabbed the UK and the world’s attention. It has got everyone talking about Yorkshire. The county is being noticed on a global scale.

It is also down to the pride and passion of the people of Yorkshire – from the various communities and businesses I have mentioned to the sheer volume of volunteers who stepped forward to be Tour Makers. Over 21,000 people have volunteered to donate their precious time to ensure the event runs smoothly and we were thrilled when Asda came on board as the official partner to Le Tour Makers, helping with the training and clothing of this super special army of volunteers.

With exactly six months to go now until the Tour de France arrives, it gives me immense pride to see how Yorkshire is fully behind this event.

We’re a county of champions, we’ve produced some of the best cyclists both past and present from Brian Robinson, Beryl Burton, Barry Hoban and Malcolm Elliott to the Downing brothers, Ben Swift, Josh Edmondson to Lizzie Armitstead and, of course, to Mark Cavendish, an ambassador for our bid and an honorary Yorkshireman by virtue of his mother’s Yorkshire roots.

Winning is in our blood. We’ve laid the foundations; now we’re working to keep momentum building. It is this indefatigable Yorkshire spirit that will help us to deliver the best, the most exciting Grand Départ the world has ever seen.

We’re already making our mark, we will make this Yorkshire’s year and one to go down in history.

• Gary Verity is chief executive of Welcome To Yorkshire