YORKSHIRE has pulled off its biggest ever sporting coup by clinching the Grand Départ of the 2014 Tour de France in a triumph worth more than £100m to the region’s economy.
Hosting the opening two stages of the world’s biggest annual sporting event is expected to attract more than one million spectators and a worldwide TV audience of more than two billion viewers in a lucrative publicity boost.
Following a valiantly fought campaign, tourism chiefs at Welcome to Yorkshire were toasting their winning bid yesterday after the news was announced by organisers ASO.
“It’s not just the biggest show on earth, but the biggest free show on earth,” said chief executive Gary Verity who described the day as one of the proudest in Yorkshire’s history.
“The only two events bigger are the Olympics and the Fifa World Cup and they only take place every four years, and are unlikely to come to Yorkshire in my lifetime.
“I said two years ago I felt it was our destiny to host the Tour in Yorkshire – today that dream has become a reality and we are so thrilled and honoured.
“Less than two years after hosting the Olympics the British public can look forward to another of the world’s biggest sporting events coming to the country and I am in no doubt they will come to Yorkshire in their millions to cheer on the champions of world cycling and our home-grown British heroes.”
Leeds will be the official host city of the Grand Départ, with a festival of cycling and the arts taking place as the riders prepare to set off on their epic three-week journey to Paris on July 5.
City council leader Keith Wakefield said it was an honour and a “dream come true”.
“Leeds has a proud racing and riding history so it will be wonderful to welcome the biggest cycle race of them all to the heart of our vibrant city centre, inspire a new generation of Yorkshire cyclists to compete on the world stage and leave a lasting cycling legacy for the city.
“It is the biggest sporting coup Yorkshire has ever pulled off.”
Teams will be unveiled at the Leeds Arena on July 3 in front of 2,000 journalists – bringing unrivalled publicity to the region.
The Yorkshire Post understands that York, Scarborough and Sheffield are to feature on the route, which is likely to incorporate gruelling hill climbs in the Yorkshire Dales and across the North York Moors.
Race organisers were in the region this week examining possible routes and logistical issues – cyclists, their back-up staff and the Tour entourage will require 5,000 hotel rooms.
As well as Leeds, York Racecourse could be the venue for the beginning, or conclusion, of a stage, with day two likely to end in Sheffield. Tour officials were at the track this week.
It will be the first time cycling’s signature event has been held in England since 2007. More than £100m was generated for London when the capital hosted the Tour’s opening race.
Organisers hope to eclipse that figure because of cycling’s booming popularity in Britain, thanks to the phenomenal achievements of Bradley Wiggins, who this summer became the first British rider to win the Tour in its 109-year history, and super sprinter Mark Cavendish whose family hails from North Yorkshire.
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said Wiggins’s historic victory and the enormous crowds that filled the streets for the cycling events at London 2012 had been a factor in deciding to return to the UK sooner than planned.
He added: “Yorkshire is a region of outstanding beauty, with breathtaking landscapes whose terrains offer both sprinters and attackers the opportunity to express themselves.
“We have encountered a phenomenal desire from the Yorkshire team to welcome the Tour de France and have no doubt that passion and support will be particularly evident for the Grand Départ in 2014.”
There will be two full days of racing in Yorkshire before the peloton heads south for a third stage that will, in all probability, end on The Mall in London.
Final details are due to be confirmed at press conferences in Paris and Leeds on January 17.
Spectator figures mean the event is likely to be bigger than the 1966 World Cup and Euro ‘96 matches staged at Elland Road, Hillsborough and Ayresome Park – as well as the World Student Games that Sheffield hosted in 1991.
More than 170,000 people supported Yorkshire’s Back Le Bid campaign. High-profile supporters included Cavendish, the 2011 world champion and last year’s BBC Sports Personality of the Year, who has 23 Tour stage wins to his name.
“My mum is from Yorkshire so I’m proud to have been backing the Yorkshire bid,” he said. “The county would provide a stunning backdrop to the Tour as well as a real test for the competitors.”
The bid was also backed by Tour legend Brian Robinson, from Mirfield, who was the first British rider to finish the race in 1955 and the first to win a stage of the Tour in 1958.
“It’s tremendous,” he said. “It’s 60 years since I was involved with the Tour as a rider and I never would have believed then it might come past my front door.”