Sir Gary Verity: Yorkshire is leading the world yet again

Lizzie Armitstead is among those competing in next Saturdays Asda Womens Tour de Yorkshire.
Lizzie Armitstead is among those competing in next Saturdays Asda Womens Tour de Yorkshire.
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In one week’s time a game-changing event will happen in the world of women’s cycling. Next Saturday morning, World Champion Lizzie Armitstead will be poised on the start line of a race in her home town of Otley. She will be realising a dream.

This will be the first time Lizzie will race in her World Champion stripes in the UK and this will be a race to go down in history. For Yorkshire has been at the very forefront of a revolution in women’s cycling.

When we first entered into the world of cycling after bidding for and then hosting Yorkshire’s Grand Départ and ensuing Tour de Yorkshire, we were aghast to discover that the average prize pot for women’s racing often doesn’t even cover the cost of attending a race, with men’s prizes up to eight times more. We knew we needed to do something about it and we’ve gone one better. Next Saturday’s Asda Women’s Tour de Yorkshire will offer a prize pot of over £50,000 (€63,623), which – at the time of racing – will make it the most lucrative in the world. The race will also bring important parity on all sides: the women’s race takes place first over the exact same route as the men’s, something Lizzie Armitstead herself praised when she joined us in York recently. We have also secured full, live TV coverage for the entire stage.

We’ve taken women’s racing to new heights and together with our sponsors, we’re bringing women’s racing the respect it deserves and Yorkshire can take pride in that we have been a leader in this field, not a follower.

We’re proud Great Britain’s most decorated female Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey will compete, along with many others from the world’s top teams including Olympic champion Dani King.

Olympic medal-winning cyclist Rebecca Romero will cut the ribbon at the start of the race in Beverley where there will also be French Secretary of State for Sports Thierry Braillard. The teams will be led through by 50 children and 18 mascots, and a junior cycle stunt champion will let off the ceremonial start. The following day, on Stage Two, we will welcome Brian Cookson OBE President of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).

All this wouldn’t be possible without the support of two iconic Yorkshire businesses who have thrown their weight behind our vision to become the European capital of cycling. Without the invaluable support of Asda, there would never have been the opportunity to revolutionise women’s cycling. I must also pay tribute to Yorkshire Bank without whom, 12,000 Yorkshire children would not have had access to a bike in the last year, through the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries.

With just days to go until the big race, I am once again blown away by how the people of Yorkshire come together and gets behind major events like the Tour de Yorkshire.

I was delighted to meet 100-year-old Stan Chadwick in Scarborough who was set to cycle the finish line of Stage 3 for himself using a specially adapted bike. He was so thrilled to hold the official race trophy made by legendary Yorkshire family – the Fattorinis – and it has been a privilege not only to take that to him but also to tour it around schools in Yorkshire.

It’s not just about spreading the word to schools either. In total Welcome to Yorkshire has delivered roadshows to over 1,600 people to tell them about the race, the route and how to capitalise on this major event. Yorkshire, you’ve done yourself proud!

There’s a real sense of pride and community spirit felt across the whole county and the Tour de Yorkshire effect is felt from field to farm, from café to castle. It is truly inspiring to see. Bunting is being made and displayed throughout Yorkshire as we speak from Wetherby to Whitby, while yellow and blue bikes are once again being rigged up around the route.

A secret mission will be happening tonight in Thirsk to celebrate the Tour, Knaresbrough RNLI (the Tour’s official charity) are creating a giant yellow welly at Thorp Arch and Stokesley will host a free ‘TourFest’ festival which will include a large outdoor screen showing the Tour de Yorkshire – one of many community festivals planned for race weekend.

Beverley will host events like cycle stunt shows, fitness events and a big screen. Horses will also be racing simultaneously at Beverley Racecourse for helicopter shots.

English Heritage’s Conisbrough Castle is set to display land art in its grounds after running a competition with local schools. The Land Art competition was a call out we made back in January to get businesses, residents and land owners on the route to get creative and make something special on their roofs, fields and gardens that can be picked up by the helicopters filming the peloton.

And as the peloton passes Doncaster Sheffield Airport, expect to see our new Tour de Yorkshire branded Flybe plane on the runway before it spreads the message around Europe.

No fewer than 150 countries around the world will be watching the race over the three days and we are gearing up for hundreds of journalists to descend on Yorkshire. Make no mistake this is a marketing dream. The Tour de Yorkshire website has a digital reach of 60 million and over 170,000 social media followers. It is now the UK’s largest free sporting event, raising £50m for the county’s economy and is watched by 1.5 million spectators on the route.

We want to sign post those visitors into local businesses and make their experience seamless so we’ve created spectator guides with maps and timings. We have also joined forces with Defra to create Tour de Yorkshire cuisine trails to highlight all the foody outlets on the route.

Once again, we are proud of the indefatigable Yorkshire spirit and how the whole county gets behind events like this. The Tour de Yorkshire 2016 is already going to be one for the world to remember – Yorkshire is about to make history once again!

Sir Gary Verity is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.