Yorkshire Hosts The Grand Depart Of The Tour De France

They say there’s no place like home and nowhere was this more true than in Yorkshire last weekend, when the region played host to the Grand Depart of the 101st Tour de France.

And Yorkshire did not disappoint. Organisers said 2.5 million people turned out to to watch defending champion Chris Froome and 197 others take on the hills and valleys of God’s Own County.

But Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme put his estimates even higher, saying: “Perhaps in two days, perhaps five million, I don’t know. It was unbelievable, unbelievable.” He went on to hail this year’s Grand Depart as the “grandest” ever.

Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish lead the Tour de France riders down the Headrow, Leeds

Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish lead the Tour de France riders down the Headrow, Leeds

Stage one of the Tour set off from Leeds city centre before the official start at Harewood House in the north of the city, where the cyclists were given a royal send-off by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

The 190km route took them through the spectacular Yorkshire Dales landscape, before ending in the elegant spa town of Harrogate.

Stage two started in the historic city of York and then travelled through Keighley, Huddersfield and the South Yorkshire countryside to end 201km later in the steel city of Sheffield.

I was fortunate to catch the Tour twice – once while joining the crowds on the Headrow in Leeds city centre and on Sunday, in the beautiful village of Oughtibridge on the outskirts of Sheffield.

(To clarify, that’s pronounced “Oot-er-bridge” and while we’re at it, you don’t pronounce the “gate” in Harrogate either. It’s more of a “gut” sound, “Harra-gut”.)

Outside Leeds Town Hall

Outside Leeds Town Hall

And what an amazing sight it was. Saturday started being rather dull and dreary but the sun came out just before the riders set off from outside Leeds Town Hall.

The atmosphere was electric with the chaperones and the police officers as excited as the hoards of fans waiting patiently by the road.

The arrival of the promotional caravan provided a welcome distraction from hanging around, with the Yorkshire Tea truck getting the biggest round of applause.

But with Team Sky’s Froome and top sprinter Mark Cavendish, of Omega Pharma-QuickStep, leading the pack, nothing surpassed the roar of the crowds as they welcomed the superstar cyclists to the streets of Leeds and the county of Yorkshire.

The Black Prince, by Edward Brock, in Leeds City Square

The Black Prince, by Edward Brock, in Leeds City Square

German rider Marcel Kittel ended up securing the first yellow jersey of the Tour, which had the added honour this year of receiving it from the Duchess of Cambridge.

Sadly, it wasn’t Mark Cavendish’s day after he was knocked out of the Tour in a self-induced crash shortly before the finish line in his mother’s home town of Harrogate. But even the notoriously grumpy Cavendish couldn’t hold back a smile while speaking to journalists the following day.

For stage two, myself, my father and a friend travelled to Sheffield and, after a whirlwind tour of the rather sleepy city centre, arrived in the village of Oughtibridge.

The Coronation Park spectator hub

The Coronation Park spectator hub

The village played host to the Coronation Park spectator hub – a village green decked out with bunting, a big screen, food and beer tents, not to mention a brass band.

There was a great vibe and the day proved to be a very different experience from the one before. Sitting on the grass, eating scones and drinking a rather nice local beer from the Welbeck Abbey brewery seemed a million miles away from the crowds in Leeds.

The caravan arrives in Oughtibridge, Sheffield

The caravan arrives in Oughtibridge, Sheffield

But the anticipation for the riders’ arrival built as everyone followed the tour around Yorkshire on the TV screen, the cyclists getting closer and closer.

The park was in valley, with the riders due to approach at high speed as they flew down the hill from High Bradfield. But it offered only a small reprieve as the route once again climbed steeply, before heading to the final stretch in the city itself.

We headed up Station Lane to catch them coming around the corner and then ascending up towards Sheffield. The view was even more impressive than Saturday, with the crowds stretching out as far as the eye could see.

And then the helicopters came. Five suddenly came into view as they flew in over the hill, the noise of their engines drowned out by a massive roar from the crowd who knew their arrival heralded the approach of the riders.

The peloton arrives in Oughtibridge

The peloton arrives in Oughtibridge

First came the peloton with Cannondale and Team Sky riders leading the charge. Within a minute, they had flown past, cheered on by the hundreds lining the route.

In many ways it seems absolutely ludicrous to spend hours camped out on a hill for the matter of a minute but thousands, millions, of people do.

Going to the effort of making it there as a spectator certainly put into perspective the amazing hard work and stamina that the riders put into competing.

Those who got the biggest cheers were the lone riders, struggling on without the support of their team-mates. If the crowd could will them on with applause alone, they would win every time.

Marcel Kittel, wearing the yellow jersey, arrives in Oughtibridge

Marcel Kittel, wearing the yellow jersey, arrives in Oughtibridge

I must confess that one of my favourite moments was when one of the last group of riders arrived, about 10 minutes later than the peloton. I lifted my camera and snapped the arrival of Kittel, easily identifiable in the yellow jersey. I got the shot, and it made my day.

We then hurried down the hill and back into the park to watch the end of the race on the big screen.

Vincenzo Nibali, of Team Astana, took the yellow jersey after a dramatic finish in Sheffield.

It was a spectacular end to a wonderful weekend in which Yorkshire stole the show in more ways than anyone could imagine.

As my friend, who grew up nearby, said fondly: “As if the Tour de France has just come through t’village.”

To coin another phrase, home is where the heart is. And last weekend, that heart was firmly beating in Yorkshire.

To see the rest of my photos from the Tour de France Grand Depart in Yorkshire, visit my Flickr page.

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