Nick Westby: Tour was Yorkshire’s Olympics and its folk’s outpouring was pure gold

The Tour de France makes its way through the Peak District between Langsett and High Bradfield.
The Tour de France makes its way through the Peak District between Langsett and High Bradfield.
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It’s amazing how quickly a place empties.

Yorkshire was bursting at the seams over the weekend, from Buttertubs Pass to Blubberhouses, Oxenhope Moor to Oughtibridge; there was barely space for any more as an estimated five million people lined the two routes of the Tour de France.

The Broad Acres welcomed the greatest bike race on the planet with open arms, created a carnival atmosphere, and sent it on its way with a myriad of happy memories and a fond farewell.

Up and down the county, doubting minds and sceptics were turned into cycling enthusiasts for the day.

Our grand staging of the Tour de France was a glorious advert for Yorkshire and for community spirit.

Yet yesterday felt like the morning after the weekend before.

For as momentous a time as the Tour de France had in its northern-most outpost, the great race had quickly packed up and moved on, leaving only a few fading street drawings and the odd yellow bike left standing.

The marvellous efficiency of the Tour de France machine is a sight to behold but it also has the ability to leave observers feeling a little cold.

Within a matter of hours, for instance, the finishing straight in Sheffield – which included dozens of trucks, countless steel erections and a vast network of electrical cables – had been packed away and was heading south down the A1 to Cambridge.

Attercliffe Road, where Vincenzo Nibali had attacked and celebrated victory, was quickly back to being plain old Attercliffe Road, a main artery through the framework of Sheffield’s industrial heartland.

For those of us who had revelled in the glamour and majesty of the Tour de France, who had turned residential roads into sporting ampitheatres, there was a desire for the party to go on.

We wanted Nibali to come into the local pub, pull up a bar stool and order a pint of ale before taking us through that daring attack from 2km out.

How did he do it? When did he decide to go?

We’ll never know. For as quickly as he was allowed to celebrate it, he was whisked away for a massage, a meal and a good night’s kip before doing it all again.

The Tour de France goes through a village, a town, a city like a whirlwind.

Eighteen months of planning comes down to just a few moments of sporting drama and then it’s on its way again, barely stopping long enough to say thanks for the hospitality – though those who were asked spoke in glowing terms of Yorkshire’s embrace.

Such an overwhelming response seemed fanciful at best when Yorkshire first learned it would stage the Grand Depart some 19 months ago.

Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity – the ambitious businessman who had the Eureka moment to bring a large sporting spectacle to the region – had a job convincing not only his county, but the rest of the country, that the White Rose could give the Tour de France a party to last a lifetime.

Together we managed it though.

All the planning and logistical calculations, the road closures and disruption proved to be well worth it – 10 times over.

The Tour de France may have gone quickly, but it will never be forgotten.

What we the punters, and even the media, are left with are the memories – and an enormous sense of pride.

For this past weekend has been a triumph for the White Rose, two days when the county showed its true colours to the watching world.

This was Yorkshire’s Olympics and our roads, our hills and our people put in a gold-medal winning performance.

Yorkshire folk are right to bask in the glow, to walk with their chests swelled with pride.

And with the calm after the storm in the hours that followed came the chance to piece it all together in the memory bank.

What were the highlights? What image best summed it up? Which memory will live longest?

The Grand Depart itself has to be up there.

The defining moment of the Tour de France drew nearly a quarter of a million people into Leeds, the equivalent of two thirds of the city’s population.

What about Harewood House and the Royal seal of approval, or the first climb up Cote de Cray and the first sight of all those thousands of fans, their flags waving, their hands clapping as they roared the peloton through that narrow tunnel of enthusiastic support?

How about that dramatic sprint finish into Harrogate?

Or was there something in the final days before the race that captivated and inspired?

Teams that stayed in Yorkshire from Wednesday onwards were obliging with locals and keen to get them involved in the cycling spirit.

And for this correspondent, who has found the majority of the cycling world amenable and eager to help and spread the word in the last few months, that was the heartening thing about the Tour de France in Yorkshire – the determination of the cycling world to give as much back to the region as the county gave to it.

And there was a hell of a lot in both directions.

Team Sky, in particular, were as keen to put on a show for a new cycling public as they were to put themselves in a good position in the race – both of which they accomplished with offensives of the charm variety and the competitive kind.

That battle up Jenkin Road in Sheffield between Sky’s Chris Froome and Alberto Contador will be one that is recalled in the days, months and years to come, such was the sheer drama of the moment.

It was one of countless snapshots of what made this weekend so uplifting.

The Tour de France may have bid au revoir to Yorkshire and moved on, but thankfully, the memories of the great race and the community spirit it fostered, will live on for a long time to come.