Yorkshire’s staging of the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France was the high point of a boom in cycling that spawned an annual race in the Tour de Yorkshire and attracted the UCI Road World Championships to the region just two months ago.
Discussions to bring the sport’s premier race back to the White Rose county have been bubbling under the surface for the last two years, along with concurrent conversations with organisers Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) over the viability of hosting the start of the Vuelta Espana – one of the two other grand tours – as well.
However, Welcome to Yorkshire, the tourism agency behind the cycling drive, have been at the centre of a scandal ever since Sir Gary Verity – the flamboyant architect of the cycling boom – resigned in March on health grounds, amidst allegations over expenses spending and bullying.
That precipitated a chain of events that included the private company, which receives millions of pounds of funding per year, nearly running out of money and being unable to pay staff in September were it not been for a £500,000 loan from North Yorkshire County Council which currently has to be repaid by November next year.
Verity is yet to be replaced as chief executive and the agency’s interim chairman Keith Stewart was ousted in October by council leaders as a condition of them providing a further £1m in funding. He was replaced as chairman by Wakefield Council leader Peter Box, who criticised the agency’s ‘spend now, worry about it later culture’ and has promised greater transparency and openness.
Yet it was obvious at the announcement of the towns to stage the start and finishes of the 2020 Tour de Yorkshire in Leeds yesterday, that the appetite of local authorities to get a slice of the cycling pie remains high.
With the 2019 race generating £60m for the local economy and playing out in front of an estimated 1.96m people on the roadside and a further 28 million via television in 190 countries; the economic and tourism benefits remain substantial.
Hence why securing a return for the Tour de France – which attracted five million to the roadside for one memorable weekend in July, 2014 – remains on the agenda.
“We are still on a course for that big prize,” Peter Dodds, the commercial director of Welcome to Yorkshire, told The Yorkshire Post.
“The Tour de France has been here once, when will the second time be? We’re still having the conversations and it is still very much a case of when, not if.”
Verity began the conversations that Dodds is now continuing with ASO, not only about the Tour de France but also the Vuelta Espana, which falls under the remit of the French organisation.
“We are still talking to Javier Guillen (Vuelta director) about the Vuelta,” continued Dodds.
“We were twice over-subscribed for locations for the Tour de Yorkshire for 2020 and beyond, so it’s how you fit these things into the calendar.
“But we’re looking five years, six years, but definitely the conversations are there.”
A time-frame for either race is loose. Start points for future races are only ever announced two years in advance and the Vuelta is only heading out of Spain for the fourth time next August when it begins in Utrecht. That race coming to Yorkshire would be 2022 at the earliest.
The 2021 Tour de France will start in Denmark, meaning with a traditional return to France the following year, it would be 2023 before it could feasibly head back to Yorkshire.
Part of the conversations with ASO over hosting the Tour de France hinge on the logistics of getting the race back to France in good time. Back in 2014, a third stage from Cambridge to London had to be used to get the race closer to the Channel to head over to the mainland.
Dodds added: “The big challenge is trying to get them back to northern France. Travel time only needs to be an hour. Finish the race at 5pm, leave at 6pm, land at 7pm, hotel by 8pm but that’s 9pm French time.”