Wheel of fortune turns in our favour

The Tour de Yorkshire passes through Pateley Bridge. Picture: Tony Johnson
The Tour de Yorkshire passes through Pateley Bridge. Picture: Tony Johnson
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on THE coldest of days, the cream of the world’s cyclists enjoyed the warmest of welcomes as spectators turned out in their tens of thousands to support the second Tour de Yorkshire.

It was not enough for Sir Bradley Wiggins, the sport’s talisman. He was the biggest casualty on the peloton’s winding and stamina-sapping five hour, nine minute and 10 second journey from Beverley to Settle.

To put the winning time recorded by stage winner Dylan Groenewegen in context, the same journey can take just as long by car in summer. These cyclists are that good.

Yet this is precisely why Welcome to Yorkshire’s Sir Gary Verity wanted to host a race of this stature each year in the wake of the successful staging of the Tour de France two summers ago.

Impressive on the ground, this region’s countryside is even more impressive when viewed from the air and the priceless pictures of cherished landscapes immortalised by the artist David Hockney, and others, were being broadcast around the world and providing the type of positive publicity which PR budgets cannot buy. London may have the marathon, but it will never have Yorkshire’s cycle race.

And another subliminal message should not be overlooked – this stage showed that this county, and its tourism industry which is a key cog in the wheel of the regional economy, is open for business after the winter floods.

If there was any doubt that the unseasonably cold weather would dampen this county’s enthusiasm for cycling, it was provided by the crowds who lined Tadcaster’s streets to catch a fleeting glimpse of the riders who were wrapped against the elements.

A town still divided after its historic bridge crumbled into the river Wharfe, it was going to take more than a piercing Arctic wind to stop Tadcaster demonstrating the strength of the spirit that has pulled this community together in adversity.

It was the same in Boston Spa, Wetherby, Boroughbridge and all those towns, large and small, which are part of this county’s DNA. This was their Olympics and they all made the most of the occasion. Good on them.

This show of support was epitomised by the ITV4 commentary team. The density of these crowds, they said, were more than a match for the Tour de France with just one notable exception – the unforgettable year when Yorkshire hosted a Grand Départ. Enough said.

And then onto the Yorkshire Dales where spectators, many waving Yorkshire flags, went to varying lengths to secure the best vantage points.

There was the lone individual in the middle of nowhere, the slithers of sunlight glistening on the snow-capped moors, clapping the riders with enthusiasm. To this person, the Dales is still best explored on two feet rather than two wheels.

There was the gentleman, caught on camera, who watched the race while supping a pint of real ale. There can be few better ways to mark the start of a Bank Holiday weekend.

Finally, the most adventurous spectator of all had to be hardy soul who was precariously perched on the ledge of Brimham Rocks in order to enjoy an uninterrupted view. He certainly enjoyed the best view of the day, the foreboding snow clouds finally giving way – presumably on the orders of the force of nature that is the aforementioned Sir Gary – to the spring sunlight that, once again, showed Yorkshire at its very best.

This has been a difficult week for British Cycling which has found itself at the centre of two untimely and unhelpful controversies.

Yet, if anyone dared to think that the wheels were coming off the sport, they only had to witness the crowds in Settle. A dozen deep, their enthusiasm was intoxicating as fans waited for hours for the chance to witness another proud moment as this county bids to becoming the cycling capital of the world.

Judging by day one of Yorkshire’s 2016 Tour de Force, the journey is only just beginning.