Tom Richmond: We need to raise our game rather than bask in glory

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WHAT next for Yorkshire? How about an audacious bid to move ‘Wimbledon’ from the hallowed turf of the All England Lawn Tennis Club to the manicured lawns of Ilkley, move the British Grand Prix from Silverstone to North Yorkshire’s Croft Circuit and bring golf’s Open championship to Moortown where the 1929 Ryder Cup was played out?

Why not? Even Welcome to Yorkshire’s indefatigable chief executive Gary Verity may have his work cut out with these sporting events, the point is the same: the Tour de France has shown what is possible if the county is prepared to think the impossible and then pull together in the same direction.

It’s why the tourism supremo is right when he says Yorkshire now needs to raise its game even further rather bask in the glory – and pride – of staging the grandest Grand Départ in the Tour’s 111-year history. The county’s leaders, he advises, should not be afraid of ambition. They should think big – he implores – and then be even bigger and bolder.

His argument is this. Yorkshire has 12 months, he says, to maximise the Tour’s legacy and the encouraging sign – from the informal conversations that took place during and after the race – is that the region’s local authorities can now see the benefits of an united approach to policy, whether it be staging sporting events for mass crowds or policies to attract new inward investment.

This point was made to me by London’s transport commissioner Sir Peter Hendy as the Leeds University graduate watched the peloton negotiate Haworth. The Tour was an even greater triumph of teamwork and organisation because there were no pre-existing structures in place to stage an event like this which transcended so many local authority boundaries.

It was a theme that Leeds City Council chief executive Tom Riordan acknowledged when he explained how cabinet members at every town hall along the two-day route took “difficult decisions re cultural funding, road closures, service provision etc and stood accountable”.

Fair play to the councillors and officers concerned, and then galvanising their teams so the world could see Yorkshire at its very best – whether it be the palpable pride of local residents or the stunning scenery. As London’s transport boss intimated, Yorkshire now has the world at its feet if it can translate this pedal power into economic growth – a once-in-a-generation opportunity that must be seized so it is game, set and match to the yellow jersey county.

A WORD about the failure of Northern Rail to lay on sufficient trains for cycling fans who wanted to travel to Harrogate for the dramatic denouement to Stage One after watching the peloton leave Leeds city centre for the start of the 101st Tour. Do not hold this against the station staff who did their very best after being put in an impossible position. Apportion blame to those faceless senior directors and executives who, by all accounts, were nowhere to be seen and whose lack of leadership and management let down so many people. I hope the Department for Transport remembers this when awarding future franchises and contracts.

THE one-way conversation between cricket legend Geoffrey Boycott and David Cameron near the Harrogate finish line did prompt one correspondent to suggest this caption to the photograph of the one-sided exchange: “The Prime Minister meets a Mr D Cameron of Witney.”

I HAVEN’T much sympathy for Yorkshire’s ‘know-it-alls’ who have belittled ITV’s Grand Départ coverage. At least the broadcaster showed the opening stages of the Tour de France on terrestrial television to provide Yorkshire with its best ever sales pitch. And, to those who wanted a great Yorkshire ‘voice’ to enhance the commentary, perhaps they should have listened to Sir Michael Parkinson struggle to explain the character, and challenge, of the delightfully-named Buttertubs Pass on Radio Two. He knows now, though.

SOME interesting observations from friends in France about Le Tour – they will now visit Yorkshire, they didn’t realise the British were so warm-hearted and they need to look at ways of getting behind the Tour de France, their race, before it is totally taken over by the UK.

ANOTHER positive – Mark Cavendish’s humility after his spectacular fall in Harrogate ended his dreams of winning the maillot jaune in his mother Adele’s home town. He not only admitted his error, but then turned up on York Racecourse the next morning to support the team – and the race. For this, he went up in my estimation and, in doing so, showed up the inadequacies of our over-rated footballers.

How fitting also that Cavenidsh’s great rival Marcel Kittel, the winner of stage one, should personally thank Gary Verity after winning Monday’s sprint finish on The Mall in London. The German wanted, on behalf of the peloton, to thank him for for putting on a show to remember and bringing cycling to the people.

Likewise David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s gracious tributes – they saw the event’s potential when the Cabinet received a special presentation from Mr Verity in Leeds in January 2013. Let’s hope this generosity of spirit is now shared by Sports Minister Helen Grant who continues, in my opinion, to under-value sport and tourism.

MY favourite memory? Rather than the obvious, I’ll be very parochial and say the centre of Guiseley at 8am last Saturday as I witnessed a snake of people walk to the station – or a peloton of cycling novices pedal off in the direction of Otley and Ilkley. It was the moment I knew Yorkshire was about to make history, a fact confirmed when the sun pierced through the clouds in the centre of Leeds two-and-a-quarter hours later at the very moment Tour legend Bernard Hinault was introduced to the crowds.

To everyone involved in this event from each and every member of the organising team to the cyclists, the volunteers and the spectators, thank you. Yes, these two words do seem rather inadequate – but what else is there to say?

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk

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