SIR DAVE BRAILSFORD says it was a privilege to race in front of Britain’s amazing crowds as the Tour de France enjoyed a thrilling conclusion to its weekend in Yorkshire.
The greatest sporting event the county has ever hosted exceeded expectations with two pulsating days of racing.
An estimated five million people lined the routes as Marcel Kittel sprinted to victory on a stage into Harrogate highlighted by a Tour-ending crash for Mark Cavendish, before Vincenzo Nibali stole away to claim the honours on an epic race into Sheffield.
Both days produced worthy winners, which illustrated just how good the routes that weaved through Yorkshire truly were.
And the fans by and large were a credit to the county and the nation, save for the isolated pockets of over-enthusiasm up the region’s climbs and the odd self-indulgent picture taken in front of the climbing peloton.
But Brailsford, whose drive over the last 15 years is a root cause of the greatest race in history visiting these parts, hailed the massed numbers of people who came out to support the Tour.
“The crowds were amazing,” said Brailsford, whose Team Sky leader Chris Froome lies fifth in the general classification, just two seconds behind Nibali in the yellow jersey.
“There was an unbelievable amount of people who came out to watch the race today and they’ve done our country proud and they’ve done Yorkshire proud. It was a privilege to race in front of them.
“For us it was a good day not only from a race point of view but also for the sport again in this country and we thank everybody who made the effort to come out and support us.”
That good day for Team Sky yesterday manifested itself in a rousing ride from Froome who attacked his general classification contenders on the final climb up Jenkin Road.
He may not have been able to hang onto the back wheel of Nibali as the Italian charged for the line outside Sheffield arena, but they begin the third and final leg in England today from Cambridge to The Mall in London, in a comfortable position.
Brailsford added: “I think they were all concerned about not losing any time, but they were also hesitant because nobody wanted the jersey.
“So Nibali has got two seconds – but he’ll have to defend that now, which is pretty good for everybody else and it’s ideal for us.
“It was a difficult day, a challenging day with narrow roads and with so many people out there, you’ve got to focus and concentrate all day.
“The riders were worried about the safety aspect, but in the main it’s been brilliant, a bit of pride for everybody.
“British people are fantastic at supporting sport and now we’ve shown we know how to support cycling as well as football, cricket and rugby.”
Froome, who flexed his muscles in a tussle with yellow jersey rival Alberto Contador, was also gushing in his praise of the Yorkshire public.
“The crowds out there were incredible,” said the 29-year-old defending champion. “The support we’ve had from Yorkshire has been out of this world. The crowd was just incredible going up Holme Moss – I had goosebumps.”
On the stage itself, Froome added: “That really was a tough stage. It was a big fight for position. You could see in the final moments there a lot of the contenders were making a move and Nibali ended up taking two seconds on us. Those are small margins but it puts him into yellow so definitely means it’s going to be an exciting week of racing to come.”
Froome was supported yesterday by a typically selfless ride on the front by his British team-mate Geraint Thomas.
Thomas, one of three Britons in the peloton following the withdrawal of Mark Cavendish with a shoulder injury, praised the fans but expressed concern at the growing trend of ‘selfies’.
“It was a bit dodgy at times,” said the 28-year-old. “The worst thing is when people have got their back to the peloton taking selfies. There were a few. They don’t see us coming, they’re stood in the road. It’s the new pain in the a*** (for the Tour). They were just stood in the gutter.
“There have been too many accidents with riders hitting spectators. We don’t want to see that but it could easily happen.”
Simon Yates, at 21 the youngest member of the British trio still in the race, trailed home off the back of the leaders for Australian team Orica GreenEdge.
The young man from Bury cycles the roads of stage two regularly on training rides.
He said: “It was a bit different today but I’ve been up there when it’s snowing and hailstoning so it’s hard every time you do that ride.”