Tour de France in Yorkshire: When Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and world’s greatest bike race came to town

The further in the past it gets, the more surreal it becomes.

Marcel Kittell wins the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France in Harrogate from Peter Sagan after Mark Cavendish crashed at the bottom of Parliament Street. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
Marcel Kittell wins the first stage of the 2014 Tour de France in Harrogate from Peter Sagan after Mark Cavendish crashed at the bottom of Parliament Street. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

The Tour de France in Yorkshire It still takes repeating before it sinks in and the memories flood back.

Ah yes, of course, that really did happen. Seven years ago today, to be precise, the biggest and most extravagant cycle race in the world rolled out from Leeds city centre on a two-day odyssey around Yorkshire.

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What followed over the course of the next 30 hours or so will live long in the memory of those fortunate to witness it; either from the hillside, the roadside or behind the barriers over the closing kilometres into Harrogate and Sheffield.

The peleton on stage 2 of the Tour de France, climb the steepest part of Jenkin Road in Sheffield (Picture: Tony Johnson)

Mark Cavendish will not want reminding of it, crashing to the tarmac as he did on Parliament Street as he chased a sprint victory and the yellow jersey on that first stage, but for others it is a cherished memory.

For this correspondent, it was a rare treat to cover an event of such scale on our own doorstep. Indeed, the media centre was 500 metres away from The Yorkshire Post skyscraper in downtown Leeds and where I based myself for the three days prior to the race beginning.

Each team came through there for their press conference. Cavendish looked like he didn’t want to be there; defending champion Chris Froome and his Sky team looked interested only in business, and Peter Sagan was the epitome of cool in the bright green of his Cannondale team.

It was a colourful week, from the bright blue skies to the flags that adorned the roadside, to the mustard trousers of Sir Gary Verity and his Welcome to Yorkshire employees, who had worked so tirelessly to pull this rabbit out of the hat.

The Tour De France hits the roads of Sheffield and The Cote De Wincobank Hill (Picture: Dean Atkins)

From Leeds on Saturday, July 5, stage one swept up to Harewood House for an offical start by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, then it was on to Otley, Ilkley and into the Yorkshire Dales.

Climbs that cyclists from these parts have known about for years suddenly had French names and an international facelift; Cote de Buttertubs, Cote de Grinton Moor.

Then down into Harrogate and a sprint finish headlined by Cavendish’s crash and won by German superstar Marcel Kittel.

Day two began at York Racecourse, headed west and then south to Sheffield across 201km of Yorkshire roads; ‘grippy terrain’ as cyclists would later come to refer to it for how it grabbed their wheels.

The peloton rides up Main Street as stage two of the Tour de France passes through Haworth. (Picture Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

For all the picturesque hills and passes that highlighted the weekend, for me, the image of Chris Froome taking on Alberto Contador up Jenkin Hill in Wincobank, with the industrial heartland of Sheffield disappearing over their shoulders, takes some beating. Two gladiators of their sport taken out of their comfort zone but still producing their best, even against that gradient and in front of that most un-Tour de France of backdrops. Vincenzo Nibali broke away to win the stage and three weeks later wore yellow in Paris. It was a fabulous weekend. Has it really been seven years?

Fans and riders on the Cote de Grinton Moor (Picture: PA)