Yorkshire’s love affair with cycling hits the seven-year itch – David Behrens

The Tour de Yorkshire
The Tour de Yorkshire
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The honeymoon is over and the marriage of convenience that was arranged between Yorkshire and cycling appears to have entered the not-speaking-to-each-other phase.

We will learn on Friday which locations will host the various stages of next year’s Tour de Yorkshire, the annual legacy of the one cycling race that anyone here had actually heard of prior to 2014.

The Tour de Yorkshire

The Tour de Yorkshire

But the towns on the list will be overshadowed by those that are not.

Harrogate, in particular, was becoming as well-known for cycle racing as it is for tea and Turkish baths. But the last one rather spoilt the party.

The UCI Road World Championships, which threaded their way through Yorkshire for eight days in late September, had based themselves around The Stray in the town centre. The council may now be wishing it had put up a “please leave this place as you found it” sign, because by the time the show was over, not much of it was left.

The Stray is Harrogate’s crown jewel. Hardly anywhere else in the country can boast 200 acres of landscaped open space in the heart of the community.

Why Harrogate wants no more cycling after UCI World Championships – Yorkshire Post letters

A large part of it is now a big bog.

Not since the 1940s, when the council dug trenches in it to prevent the Luftwaffe from using it as a landing strip, had it been so badly vandalised.

The sight of it when the races were over must have been akin to parents coming back from holiday to find their teenage children had thrown a party and wrecked the joint.

Admittedly, the weather didn’t help. But it was clear even before the first starting line had been raised that the event might be more trouble than it was worth. Crowds did not turn out in their expected numbers – goodness know what state The Stray would have been in if they had – and roads were closed all week to accommodate the riders. Shopkeepers complained that they couldn’t get stock in or out.

The council now seems to see it from their side. When asked by Welcome to Yorkshire if it would like to host part of the event next May, it politely but firmly declined. “I think people want a rest from big events for a while,” said the council leader, Richard Cooper.

Harrogate was not the only town to display signs of cycle fatigue. Scarborough, across whose North Bay has been strung a finish tape every year since 2015, also said it did not want to take part next time. Instead, it is concentrating its efforts on hosting National Armed Forces Day the following month.

Why Yorkshire should be proud of its cycling legacy – Gareth Mills

The council said it was disappointed not to be involved, but it may have been shedding crocodile tears. It is used to staging big events; it could have accommodated the cyclists as well as the troops if it had wanted.

But why should it? We have, after all, had little transparency on how much it has cost over the last five years to keep the show on the road.

The level of disillusionment has reduced Welcome to Yorkshire almost to the level of trick-or-treaters, knocking on Town Hall doors only to have them slammed in their faces.

That is perhaps not surprising in view of its own reduced circumstances. Beholden to public bodies for its continued existence, it is no longer in the driving seat. The cycling shoe is on the other foot now.

How UCI Road World Championships is taking its toll on Harrogate – Yorkshire Post Letters

But it would be a shame if the UCI’s legacy was to turn the Tour de Yorkshire into a poisoned chalice. It is, after all, a spectator event second to none. The exposure it attracts benefits not only the county but also the small communities who embrace it.

The World Championships were different and, with hindsight, perhaps a road too far. That certainly seems to be the prevailing mood in Harrogate.

The event put me in mind of the World Student Games, which Sheffield hosted in 1991, having mounted an expensive bid against no-one. It was another event hardly anyone had heard of, but one that would bring glory and regeneration to a city badly in need of both, we were told. On paper, it was an unmitigated catastrophe, running up a debt of £658m, which Sheffield Council is still paying off to this day.

And although it led directly to the construction of Ponds Forge, Sheffield Arena and the former Don Valley Stadium, few would argue that it is an experiment worth repeating.

The UCI race was not on the same scale, but it will likely meet the same fate, so far as Yorkshire is concerned, as our cycling romance heads irrevocably towards the seven-year itch.