By guest blogger Ian Fergusson
Le Tour de France has come a long way since its humble beginnings in 1903 as a newspaper publicity stunt. The world’s greatest bicycle race is also the world’s largest free sporting event. Thousands line the streets of France every year to cheer on the cyclists as they power their way through a gruelling three week schedule that covers over 2000 miles. To continually boost the profile of the race, a regular feature over the last few decades has been for the tour to begin in a neighbouring country. This means that next week, for those that had not yet noticed, Le Tour comes to Yorkshire! With excitement at fever pitch in God’s own county, we take a look at the 8 best places to watch the tour.
Le Grand Depart, Leeds / Festival of Cycling, Harewood House.
We can’t leave out the actual start of the race. Leeds hopes to give the Tour its grandest depart ever. The amazing publicity caravan (which has to be seen to be believed) will set off from the Headrow at 9.10am throwing out goodies to the massed crowds lining the streets. The riders follow at 11.10am and will head as a procession towards Harewood House where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry will officially start the race. Harewood House is a major hub for Le Tour and hosts the Yorkshire Festival of Cycling throughout the weekend. Camping, camper vans and glamping are all on offer along with BMX and Mountain Bike routes, and an EXPO of the latest cycling gear.
A glorious introduction to the Yorkshire Dales for the peloton. Named after the shafts near the summit of the hill where farmers would keep butter and cheese cool, the pass includes a long climb that reaches a 20% gradient in parts. Classic cycling terrain, there is the opportunity for spectators to line the roads for miles to get a close-up view of the riders.
The “Cow and Calf” rocks overlook beautiful Ilkley and offer a spectacular setting throughout the year. Throw in Le Tour’s carnival atmosphere and festival of colour and you have a heady mix indeed. Riverside fairgrounds, outdoor screens, beer festival, live bands, magicians and more all make Ilkley the perfect base for a full day out.
“My whole year’s about Harrogate.” – So says Mark Cavendish, the 25 times Tour de France stage winner on Harrogate’s tourist information website. Although featuring twice on the course, all eyes will be on Harrogate’s sprint finish on Saturday. Cavendish is a sprint specialist and he has targeted his mum’s home town as a season highlight. Bagging a place any where near the final sprint will be the equivalent of holding Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket in your hand, but a fan zone that includes a foodie festival, pop-up gastro pub, live music and more also awaits. The town has also been decorated with over 23,000 Tour de France jerseys that have been sent by knitters from all over the world.
York Racecourse / The York Dungeon.
Free tickets for the public have now been allocated, but York Racecourse still has packages available at various prices for those wanting to watch Stage Two get underway. For a more chilling experience, how about The York Dungeon? Be prepared for some devilish surprises whilst being entertained by court jesters Froome and Cavendish. The York Dungeon is one of York’s most beloved attractions. It will be a unique spot to witness the riders making their way out of the city. Don’t miss out on a free souvenir flag to help cheer them on!
Watching hundreds of riders tackling the cobbled streets of Flanders is one of cycling’s most picturesque sites. Bronte Country offers its own, Yorkshire-style version in Stage Two with the short climb up Main Street in Haworth. A setting that looks unchanged since the Bronte sisters’ heyday, amateur and professional photographers will be battling for the best positions to capture the moment.
The longest continuous ascent in England at almost six miles from Mytholmroyd to Littleborough, Cragg Vale features on every UK cyclist’s “to-do” list and locals are well used to seeing colourful flashes of lycra pass by. Spectators will line the road underneath the world’s longest bunting, but don’t forget to visit the Robin Hood pub, a cyclist friendly boozer that regularly holds madcap events which include dragging grand pianos up the ill and tandem races. The Little Valley Brewery are also hosting a day-long festival close to the summit.
Cragg Vale might be the longest ascent, but Holme Moss is probably the North’s most iconic climb. Clocking in at just under 4 miles, it ought to afford good viewing opportunities as it slows the peloton down (a little). Various high vantage points will offer outstanding views of the racers passing through some of Yorkshire’s most breathtaking scenery.
Wherever you decide to go, make sure you charge up your mobile phone, bag your spot early and—most important of all—enjoy yourself!