When the peloton rolls out for the start of the 101st edition of the Tour de France on Saturday July 5, 2014, it will do so on British soil.
And the man behind the bid, Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity, has promised Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme the county will “give the Tour the grandest of Grand Départs”.
The Tour de France will return to Britain for the first time since 2007 when Yorkshire hosts the opening two stages of next year’s race and the baton was officially passed to Verity in a ceremony on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday as the 2013 edition came to a close.
The 2014 Grand Départ will see Yorkshire host two stages, on the weekend of July 5 and 6, before the race moves south for a third stage from Cambridge to London on July 7.
And, with the dust beginning to settle on Chris Froome’s victory in the 100th Tour, Verity is relishing the prospect of bringing cycling’s greatest race to Yorkshire – and, indeed, the north of the country – for the first time.
It’s a huge honour to host the Grand Départ
“With this year’s Tour now over, the next time the Tour de France takes place it will be in Yorkshire,” Verity told RoadCyclingUK.
“That’s a very exciting and very humbling prospect. It’s a huge honour to host the Grand Départ of the 101st Tour de France.”
Yorkshire was granted the right to host the opening stages of the 2014 Tour in December 2012, fighting off rival bids from Edinburgh, Florence and Barcelona, with Prudhomme citing the success of London’s 2007 Grand Départ and last summer’s Olympic Games as reasons for returning to the UK.
While British cycling is enjoying its most successful period ever, Yorkshire has a rich history of sending riders to compete in the Tour de France, with Huddersfield-born Brian Robinson the first man to complete the race and to win a stage.
And it’s that heritage, combined with challenging roads, which Verity believes makes Yorkshire the perfect host for the start of the race.
“We have all the ingredients to make a very successful Grand Départ,” he said. “We have easy accessibility, both from the south of England and from Europe, via two airports and a port, and we have a cycling heritage.
The second stage in Yorkshire has 3,000m of ascent – Liege-Bastogne-Liege, perhaps the hardest of the Classics, has 3,500m
“If you look at the champions of British cycling – from Brian Robinson, to Malcolm Elliott, to Barry Hoban, and now with the Downing brothers, Ben Swift and Josh Edmondson – there’s a strong Yorkshire element there.
“We’ve got great scenery, changing landscapes and tremendous hills. Our second stage has 3,000m of ascent. Liege-Bastogne-Liege has 3,500m and that is considered to be perhaps be the toughest of the one-day races, so it’s a very hard second stage, with nine climbs in the final 60km. It will be incredible.”
The first stage, however, is likely to end in a bunch sprint and, after missing out on the chance to become the sixth Briton to wear the yellow jersey in Corsica this year, will present Mark Cavendish with a rare, second opportunity to pull on the maillot jaune.
“We have a very special first stage in that it is designed for a sprint – it’s a relatively flat stage and finishes in Harrogate, the home town of Mark Cavendish’s mother,” said Verity. “It would be incredible if Cav could add to his stage win total in Harrogate next July. It’d be the perfect start.”
The Tour de France last crossed the English Channel in 2007, when London hosted a prologue won by Fabian Cancellara, before a road stage took the race from the capital to Canterbury.
Chris Froome, a rider born more than 4,000 miles away in Nairobi, Kenya, but riding for a British team under a British passport, will arrive in Yorkshire as defending champion having become the second successive Brit to win the race after Bradley Wiggins’ historic triumph in 2012.
To have Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome as champions of Tour de France – we couldn’t have written a better script
And Verity admits the success of British riders on the world stage – be it stage wins for Cavendish, or overall victory for Froome and Wiggins – has helped bring the Tour back to Britain ahead of schedule.
“It’s unquestionably a big boost for us to have Chris Froome come to Yorkshire as the defending champion,” said Verity. “To have Bradley Wiggins stand on the podium in Paris last year was a big boost to our bid and now we have a second British champion. We couldn’t have written a better script.
“I always felt it was our destiny to get the Grand Départ in Yorkshire but I didn’t anticipate we would get it as quickly as we have done. I thought it would be for 2016 or 2017, so to get it now I think is partly down to the success of British riders.”
Verity and his team were in Porto-Vecchio, Corsica, for the start of this year’s race as part of a three-year fact-finding mission which also saw them visit the Grand Départs in Liege in 2012 and Vendee in 2011.
Now it’s Yorkshire’s turn to host the opening act to the biggest drama in sport and Verity, who also wants the legacy of the bid to give every child in Yorkshire access to a bike, admits the race is on to deliver his promise to Prudhomme.
“There are many, many items at the top of my to-do list,” he said. “We’re working with loads of different agencies – the local authority, police, UK Sport, British Cycling etc – and between us we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do over the next 12 months but I’m sure we will do it to a very high standard.
We want to put Yorkshire at the heart of European cycling
“We anticipate upwards of three million people to line the roadside on our two stages, on the Saturday and the Sunday, and I’m sure the stage from Cambridge to London will have hundreds of thousands of people who will take the day off work to cheer the riders on to a sprint finish on The Mall.
“We will have three great stages and will send the Tour back to mainland France with a real buzz around it and having done a great job.
“We want to put Yorkshire not just at the heart of British cycling but at the heart of European cycling for years to come.”