THE last 12 months in the life of Yorkshire can be described in one word, a word I’ll borrow from my friend Christian Prudhomme, director of the Tour de France. That word is humongous.
We first heard it when the ASO – the organisers of the world’s biggest cycle race – arrived in Yorkshire five days before the Grand Départ last summer. Their eyes lit up at the yellow bikes, the bunting, the banners and posters, the t-shirts painted by school children and the straw bales made into giant cheeses. The infectious excitement of our local communities spread to each of the race’s teams as they arrived.
If you thought Yorkshire looked incredible last year, wait until you see the coastal route of Stage One today
They truly had never seen anything like it and I knew early in race week that the people of Yorkshire had utterly and completely delivered in creating the most fantastic, the most impressive and the most humongous Grand Départ that the Tour de France had ever seen.
And what a race it was. Our two days raised the bar for future Grand Départs, for sporting events in the UK and for Yorkshire’s position as European capital of cycling.
As if we needed more proof out of the pudding, I am proud of the trophy shelf in the Welcome to Yorkshire offices which now strains under the weight of awards.
So, in the 10 months since the Grand Départ, have we rested on our laurels?
Those who know me and my team wouldn’t dream of such things. Are we satisfied that AOL and Lonely Planet said Yorkshire was the place to visit in 2014, or that the Grand Départ brought over £102m into the Yorkshire economy alone?
Is it a coincidence that regional businesses report booming sales, bookings and reservations, or that we have international journalists visiting every last nook and cranny of our beautiful county?
We do, of course, have one humongous advantage here in Yorkshire. The people.
Nowhere else in the country has such a strong spirit and sense of belonging, an identity and community. And cycling is now part of that identity once again as it was years ago when Beryl Burton raced, when the grass track in Roundhay Park was teeming with riders and when our road race scene was booming.
With the Tour de Yorkshire, the newest, the most exciting and most eagerly anticipated race on the international cycling calendar of the year, the spotlight will once again shine on this great county for the next three days.
With our organising partners the ASO, we have secured international TV broadcast across more than 100 countries, and viewers will see professional athletes from as far afield as Australia, Denmark and South Africa. Millions of people will once again be treated to the glorious spectacle that is racing on Yorkshire’s roads, brought to our screens by the same TV crew who produce the Tour de France.
If you thought Yorkshire looked incredible last year, wait until you see the coastal route of Stage One today, the Minsters of Beverley and York on Stage Two tomorrow, or the Cow and Calf, the Chevin, or Cragg Vale on Stage Three which finishes in Roundhay Park, Leeds, on Sunday afternoon.
And it’s not just the three stages and 512km that the men’s race covers. We have met with over 1,000 businesses at roadshows where we’ve encouraged them to get involved and take advantage of the crowds and spectators.
We are welcoming back nearly 2,000 Tour Makers to extend a friendly Yorkshire welcome to visitors and residents alike, and at the Tour Maker training sessions, run brilliantly with West Yorkshire Police, I’ve never met a more dedicated and proud group of people.
The Tour de Yorkshire Festival, a month-long celebration running up to race weekend, has included some outstanding examples of our thriving arts scene, from comedy to children’s theatre; the Tour de Yorkshire Ride will see over 6,000 riders tackle the sportive; and part of the weekend I am most excited to see and develop is the Women’s Tour de Yorkshire in York.
We had not dared to dream of attracting the field we have for this and when we saw the entrants we knew this couldn’t be a better start. From world champions, Olympians and Paralympians in Dame Sarah Storey and Joanna Rowsell MBE, to local riders from the thriving racing scene, to those who will watch and be inspired, the atmosphere in York will be electric.
And so this weekend, I’d say to every Yorkshire man, woman and child: come out and see this incredible race.
When you get home, dust off your bike, go riding with your children and say to them, “how about you try and win the Tour de Yorkshire at some stage in the future?” It is a race that is here to stay.
Gary Verity is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire. Further details of the race can be found at www.letouryorkshire.com