From Leeds to London, does the Yorkshire route work for the Tour?

Sweeping roads, beautiful landscapes, challenging climbs, breath taking scenery, historic landmarks. It should be easy to decide where in Yorkshire the Tour passes through, shouldn’t it?

After Yorkshire was announced as the Grand Depart of the 2014 Tour de France, the Yorkshire bid team alongside the Tour organisers faced the painstaking process of deciding just where in Yorkshire the Tour goes. Being able to combine the needs of the Tour along with the desire to showcase the best that Yorkshire had to offer was always going to be difficult.

The first decision of where to host the Grand Depart was an easy one, as explained by Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council: “The start of the first stage was set; we always knew we really wanted to have that in Leeds. Leeds is the only city that has the number of bedrooms and hotel spaces big enough to accommodate the amount of people”.

The first stage will see the riders take on the challenging terrain of the Yorkshire Dales before ending the first day in the spa town of Harrogate which is where Britain’s most successful Tour de France rider ever, Mark Cavendish, grew up. Tom Riordan feels this offers a great opportunity for a British win to add to the spectacle: “This is going to be fantastic for Yorkshire and the world and we are hugely excited about it. We would love for Mark Cavendish to be coming down the straight and winning the 1st stage 200 yards away from where he grew up and where his family still live”.

However not everyone is this enamoured with the Harrogate finish, Thomas Harcourt, member of the Blackhawk Bikes amateur cycling team would have liked to see a different conclusion: “I would have had a hill top finish on one of the days. Maybe instead of finishing in Harrogate on stage 1 they could have taken the finish over towards the North Yorkshire Moors and finished up Carlton Bank. It would have been great to see the likes of Philippe Gilbert and Joaquim Rodriguez fighting it out up there”.

The second stage of the Grand Depart will see the Tour travel from the historic walled city of York to the industrious “Steel City” of Sheffield. Along the way the riders will take in parts of the Peak District as they weave their way across the Yorkshire countryside.

Whilst public response to the route announcement has been largely positive, there have been some concerns over the notable exclusion of the North Yorkshire Moors. This is something that Tom and the bid team did consider but ultimately couldn’t accommodate: “Our preference was to have the first stage finish on the coast and to showcase the coast of North Yorkshire. But that wasn’t possible as it has to be a very wide, long road to finish and you’ve got to have a lot of space for all the kit. It is really hard because obviously we would have loved to have gone across the Moors and finished in Scarborough in particular. But it wasn’t in our hands, it was the case of the logistics and what was feasible”.

After the first two stages in Yorkshire the Tour then heads south for a third stage that starts in Canterbury and finishes on the Mall in London. In what was always billed as a Yorkshire Grand Depart the decision to have a stage in London has caused some controversy with some believing the nation’s capital has muscled in on Yorkshire’s bid.

Tom doesn’t believe this is the case and thinks that the London stage can help to elevate the profile of the Yorkshire Grand Depart: “The third stage came later in terms of where it was going to be and it was fairly late in the day that we talked to London. We always had it in mind that they (the Tour organisers) would want to finish it in London on the Mall with all the international profile that London has. But we were very clear all along that this was a Yorkshire Grand Depart, this wasn’t a London Grand Depart. It’s great that London is involved and it’s great that the finish is going to be there because it raises our profile internationally which is what we want”.

Despite the complexity of trying to please everyone and trying to show off the best that Yorkshire has to offer, Tom is pleased with the final route: “We really wanted to showcase the best of Yorkshire and I think we’ve done that. Of course some places have been bypassed but it is impossible to cover everything we wanted. It was important to us to bring in the sort of great scenic routes of Yorkshire, the historic castles and the places and towns. The fact that we have got York, Sheffield and Harrogate in there as well is great”.

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