IN less than a week’s time, the county will once again be showcased to the world through one of cycling’s biggest and most popular races, the Tour de Yorkshire.
Now in its third year, the event has not only cemented itself on the professional racing calendar, but also in the hearts and minds of the Yorkshire people as being one of the most thrilling weekends of the year.
However, the lead up to this year’s race has been very different from previous years with professional cycling, as a whole, thrown into turmoil through allegations of bullying, discrimination and rule bending. The headlines have not made for good reading and whether you’re a cycling fan or not, you won’t have escaped its problems and issues as it filled our back pages and news bulletins.
I love this sport, and of course, it worries me because we have set out on a journey to get lots of people cycling – and lots of people are cycling – me included.
Yorkshire’s population is now ranked second in England for individuals taking weekly bike rides, up from seventh in 2014. The research also shows there are 18,000 more cyclists in Yorkshire compared to the previous year’s figures.
I’m obviously sad when I pick up a newspaper or watch the TV and there’s a derogatory story about cycling. I want to be reading about the great successes in the sport; the stories that go on to inspire the next generation of professional and recreational riders.
For me, this is where the Tour de Yorkshire comes in. In view of all the problems and issues facing professional cycling at the moment, the Tour de Yorkshire is the perfect antidote to that.
It is a positive beacon for the sport. The race was born out of a direct legacy of London hosting the 2012 Olympic Games when British Cycling’s successes on the road and track captured the nation. It’s when my team and I decided Yorkshire had to host the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. And indeed we did! Yorkshire played host in 2014 and cemented the county’s place as a world-class cycling destination. Four million fans lined the route during those two incredible days, an event that has gone down in history as being ‘The Grandest of Grand Départs’.
Since then, I have been proud to oversee the launch and growth of the Tour de Yorkshire – a race which is now regarded as one of the most dramatic and well-supported events in the sport.
We will see some of the very best cyclists in the world competing on Yorkshire’s roads to become the next champions. We will see female cyclists given complete parity with the men. We will see hundreds of journalists from across the globe descending on Yorkshire to not only report on the thrilling racing but also the incredible crowds and atmosphere the race attracts. And that’s where that positive beacon shines high and bright.
The crowds are not only diehard cycling fans; they are also diehard Yorkshire fans and for this I am incredibly proud. Cycling is in Yorkshire’s DNA having produced greats such as Brian Robinson, Barry Hoban and Beryl Burton. Our stunning landscape continues to inspire, with Ben Swift, Ed Clancy and Lizzie Deignan having all become world champions in recent years and we want to continue this legacy for future generations.
There are many other sports that are dealing with similar issues like we have seen over the last few months in cycling. This is a problem with human beings, who faced with temptation, decide to do things that are clearly not impressive or inspirational but the thing I keep being drawn back to is what legacy is Yorkshire leaving for the future of cycling?
In my opinion it’s a huge one. When you see children at the side of the road, their faces beaming as they watch these world class riders fly past them in their home county, this puts a huge smile on my face.
Look at the Yorkshire Bank Bike Libraries project we organise, where people donate bikes that their kids have outgrown which are then repaired and loaned out to children whose parent or parents can’t afford to buy them a bike.
Last year alone we got 36,000 children riding a bike who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. And that is the important thing here.
Forget the multi-million-pound tourism boost the Tour de Yorkshire brings to the county, forget the 11 million people across the globe who see our magnificent county in all its glory on the TV. We have got 36,000 children riding bikes.
We are flying when it comes to cycling participation in Yorkshire whether that be for recreational or competitive purposes.
Cycling clubs in this county are booming and I’m sure the inspiration of the Tour de Yorkshire has played a huge part in that. We could be creating the next Lizzie Deignan or Chris Froome or simply getting you, your family and your friends out having fun on your bikes.
Those are the headlines we all want to be reading. Headlines that are born out of Yorkshire and its passion for celebrating cycling and the county.
Sir Gary Verity is chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire.