Respected cyclist Dean Downing believes that watching this year’s Tour de France will help people understand the magnitude of what is headed to Yorkshire next summer, writes Nick Westby.
The White Rose county is to play a major role in the 2014 edition of Le Tour by staging the Grand Depart and the opening two stages of the biggest bike race on the planet.
As much as the Tour is about cycling, it is also about tourism, commerce, business and culture, and if anyone is unsure what it means to the White Rose to play its part, Downing is urging them to tune in for this year’s race.
“I think watching it over the next few weeks is when it will really sink in for people the enormity of what is headed here next year,” said Downing, who at 38 continues to compete on British roads.
“We’re close to a year away now. People who are really interested in cycling and have been involved in bringing the Tour to the county will be thinking ‘gosh this is coming to Yorkshire roads’.
“It’s not only the biggest bike race in the world, it’s one of the biggest sporting events in the world.
“It’s got so much potential to enhance cycling in the UK and Yorkshire, but also the cultural aspect in Yorkshire and the legacy it’s going to leave is going to be massive.
“When we see the Tour on TV over the next few weeks, that’s when it will hit home how big an event we’re going to be having here in Yorkshire.”
Downing has played an ambassadorial role in helping tourism board Welcome to Yorkshire bring the Grand Depart to Leeds.
He has been an active backer and also reconnoitred both routes.
Stage one on July 5 is a flat stage from Leeds to Harrogate with stage two more of an examination of climbing prowess from York to a finish in Sheffield, near where Downing grew up in Thurcroft, Rotherham.
Over the next few weeks, Yorkshire will be on the minds of a lot of cycling administrators while fans of the sport will be focused on the three weeks of racing.
Many believe the battle for the yellow jersey in the 100th Tour de France, which begins today in Corsica, is a straight shootout between Team Sky’s Chris Froome and former winner Alberto Contador. But Downing does not believe a race with so many intangibles will be as black and white as that.
“The media will be wanting a shootout but anything can happen, we saw that a couple of years ago when Bradley (Wiggins) did his shoulder,” said Downing.
“I’ll be rooting for Chris Froome and I think he’s got an awesome team behind him, but this is one of the hardest tours for a while with a lot of climbing stages.”