Beaming faces from the crowds. Grimaces from some of the best known riders in the world as they bent to their task. That was the scene on the first day of Yorkshire’s second annual cycle race as it snaked from Beverley in the east to Settle in the Dales.
Sports fans in Beverley are more used to watch racing on four legs, rather than two wheels, but around 30,000 people turned out to line the route, as the peloton left the town’s historic Saturday Market this morning and headed out towards the racecourse.
On the first day of this year’s Tour de Yorkshire, enthusiastic crowds defied the gloomy weather and race organiser Sir Gary Verity said the town should be proud of its efforts.
He said: “Beverley has done really well - it’s looking a picture.
“Look at the thousands of school children here. This is a day that they will remember for the rest of their lives. It’s a piece of history for a wonderful town.”
Once again, the biggest cheers were reserved for Sir Bradley Wiggins, but all of his attention was on the race ahead, rather than his birthday celebrations.
The Olympic champion turned 36 yesterday and was presented with a huge cake on stage before the race began, but he passed up on the offer of getting the spectators to sing a chorus of Happy Birthday.
East Yorkshire’s love for the tour was confirmed by local council leader Coun Stephen Parnaby, who promised that the area would bid to host a stage start or finish in 2017 - looking to complete its hat-trick.
Six million people round the world were said to be watching the event which was played in 150 countries. Coun Parnaby said it was now recognised as “the biggest tourism event in the area.”
He said: “There were 25,000 people in Bridlington for the start last year, 30,000 in Beverley today. People will look forward to it again next year. We shall be bidding again, I can assure you, for a start or a finish.
“It’s a fantastic day and really puts us on the world stage. It’s a great, great opportunity for everybody.”
The streets were painted blue and yellow with visitors dressing for the occasion as the cyclists made their way to Beverley Racecourse for the official start.
Mayor of Beverley, Peter Astell, said: “It is great to see so many people descend on Saturday Market. We as a town council have supported the decoration and interaction and we feel Beverley looks the part for all the coverage which is being broadcast worldwide.
“It is a great occasion and people have turned out in numbers to cheer the riders on which is fantastic.”
Sue Dewar and John Magee, from Hull, said: “We went along to the Tour de France when it was in the country and we loved it so we thought we would come to Beverley today. We don’t get events to this scale very often and even though the weather is not on our side, people have turned up in their thousands and it certainly is a fantastic occasion.”
The people of Settle came out in their hundreds for the culmination of the first stage race.
There were three generations of the Wilcock family stood 25 meters from the finish line.
Husband and wife Chris and Celia were joined by daughter Laura and their five-month-old granddaughter Maggie.
“The last time a cycle race came through Settle was the Milk Race when I was about six,” laughed Chris, whose son-in-law Mick runs a local cycle shop in Settle.
Brother and sister Jethro, 7, and Georgia Entwhistle, 10, were stood with their mother on the finish line.
“We watched the start at home and then raced down here to get a good spot,” said Jethro.
Ten metres up the road, with a perfect view as the winner crossed the line, was Donna Lucas, a Meltham resident who had driven up from West Yorkshire that morning with her husband.
“I’ve seen the Olympic road race and Ride London, but we missed the Tour de France in Yorkshire two years ago, so were determined not to miss out again.”