Harrogate calling: there’s a party coming – somebody tell the locals

Tour de France Grand Depart finish town awaits the arrival of cycling's biggest race

“It is coming and it is going to be crazy.”

James Booth, Specialized UK’s sports marketing and PR manager, coined the above quote as we prepared to pay a visit to the brand’s concept store in Harrogate this month.

The ‘it’ he was referring to of course is the Tour de France, which conveniently for the guys at the shop will finish just metres from the doorstep.

The view towards Parliament Street, Harrogate, atop which will sit the finish line of the first stage of this year’s Tour de France

For Yorkshire’s cycling community, the arrival of the sport’s greatest race in July has certainly captured the imagination – and few can blame them with one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the world heading to the white rose county.

But what of the picturesque spa town of Harrogate? The eyes of the sporting world will turn towards it when the first stage of the 101st Tour de France finishes on Parliament Street on July 5, 2014.

Beneath a rare glimpse of  sunshine on a late afternoon in January however, it is difficult to picture. For a start, the long straight-line finish is a one-way street full of traffic – all heading in the opposite direction to that in which the peloton will travel.

Mention the Tour, and people are certainly aware of its forthcoming arrival though – and of the magnitude of it.

Even non-cycling fans, I am reliably informed, have realised the potential value of the Tour coming to town and put their houses up for rent for a princely £500 for the weekend.

Others plan on staying in town – “It’s a bit like the Olympic torch coming,” a taxi driver explains. “I’m probably never going to see it again in my lifetime, so I’ll head along.”

Personally, if the Tour was heading right past my doorstep I’d be working on some elaborate hay-bale structure in the back garden, or stringing up a zip-wire marionette in a polka-dot jersey on the lampposts.

Fortunately, I’m not the only one to share such sentiments either – Sam Hodgson and Tom Cutting, the men behind Mark Cavendish’s CVNDSH logo, are of the same ilk, will be among those who work in Harrogate to welcome the race to Yorkshire.

Le Tour bottles at the Big Red Bike Company, Harrogate – one of few clues as to what awaits the town come Saturday July 5

Dutch Corner, a giant CVNDSH logo and the practicalities of riding the route are among the topics discussed over lunch – cycling fans, keen to get as much value as possible out of this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Parliament Street is currently receiving a small facelift ahead of its moment in front of the camera’s glare, but it does make an unlikely destination for such a sporting occasion.

Home to a Winter Gardens – featuring Turkish baths among other attractions – upmarket jewellers and famously Betty’s Tea Rooms it is hard to picture thousands packing the route.

There are few signs the Tour is coming – a number of yellow Le Tour water bottles in the window of the nearby Big Red Bike Company are an exception, as is a carved tree stump outside Betty’s.

It may be six months away but a buzz is already forming. For cycling fans – or even just sports fans – it will be an unmissable experience

Betty’s, of course, is among Harrogate’s most famous attractions: “You’ll wait a long time for a window seat in there,” another taxi driver informs me. “And it has to be a window seat – it is not enough just to be in Betty’s, you have to be seen to be in there too!”

A window seat on July 5 will be next to useless though, unless you enjoy the sight of the backs of rows and rows of cycling fans’ heads.

And that is why it will be exciting to be in Harrogate – it may be six months away but already a buzz is forming.

Harrogate will be a hub, and while general consensus is the locals will miss out, for cycling fans – or even just sports fans – it will be an unmissable experience.

Remove the cars and street furniture, and just picture the world’s best sprint trains flying up Parliament Street on these very roads

As unlikely a setting as it may be, hover just long enough atop Parliament Street and you can almost picture it – a hazy summer heat rising on the road, as the best sprint trains in the business burst into view, frantically jostling for space on the narrow road.

Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, and Andre Greipel catapulting from behind their chief lieutenants as they hit a flatter section of road, at the top of the uphill finish, before going wheel-to-wheel in front of thousands of fans, through a wall of noise.

The locals may not yet know it, but a carnival is on its way and, come Saturday July 5, what a party it is going to be.

The locals may not yet know it, but a carnival is on its way and, come Saturday July 5, what a party it is going to be

Now we just have one thing to pray for – “I hope to God it’s sunny come that Saturday,” Andrew Richards, head of the Big Red Bike Shop, adds as the winter clouds start to roll back in over North Yorkshire.

“It would be a great shame if all those people were denied the chance to live such an experience.”

Sunny or not though, a great spectacle awaits in this spa town and you’d be mad to miss such an opportunity.

Stay tuned to RCUK for much more on the  Grand Départ, including a feature on Specialized’s Concept Store, and an interview with 2006 Tour de France champion Oscar Pereiro, over the coming days.

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