Millions lined the route from start to finish. In rain and shine they applauded, cheered and encouraged. Le Grand Depart was a huge success for Yorkshire and for the Tour de France.
As someone who has followed Le Tour for many years and someone who went to the Grand Depart in London in 2007 and went to Paris twice to watch the finale on the Champs Elysees. I can definitively say that the atmosphere in Yorkshire this weekend trumps all of that.
After studying the route I decided to go to Harrogate to take in the Grand Depart. This meant I could watch the end of Stage 1 and also Stage 2 went through Harrogate as well. With the Tour set to pass through at around 4pm-5pm I decided to leave the hotel at about 10am to find a good spot. I knew from my prior visits to watch the Tour that I would need to leave plenty of time if I was to find a good vantage point. To my surprise as I headed towards the finish of Stage 1, the route was already lined with thousands of people 6 hours before the cyclists would arrive. I managed to find a decent spot (see below) about 250m from the finish with a clear view of the line and a good view of a big screen that had been erected.
Throughout the day there was a real party atmosphere as the anticipation built towards the arrival. The hundreds of sponsor vehicles in Le Caravan passed through (I managed to nab myself some free cake and tea). Then the real excitement began as the Tour weaved its way through Yorkshire towards Harrogate. The home favourite, Mark Cavendish, seemed very well placed to go for the win. His team, Omega Pharma-Quickstep, were organising their lead out train at the front of the peloton and all seemed well. But then disaster struck.
About 25 metres to the left of where I stood, Cavendish crashed. The picture of him laying at the side of the road clutching his injured arm is one that will live long in the memory. The cheering didn’t stop though, and as ‘Cav’ clambered back onto his bike to roll across the line, the crowd responded. Clapping, encouraged and chanting the Manx Missle who crossed the line slower than ever before.
Marcel Kittel won the stage but the day was all about Yorkshire. The scenes on the Buttertubs were reminiscent of the famous Alpe d’Huez as thousands lined the road. The crowd was 10 deep in places in Harrogate with people climbing trees to try and gain a viewpoint.
The 2nd Stage was less hectic for me. I arrived at the route around 2 hours before the Tour was scheduled to pass through. Again I managed to grab some goodies from the sponsor Caravan that precedes the cyclists (more tea and a weird bitter drink in a sachet). Again the atmosphere was one of excitement and anticipation as thousands waited for the cyclists to arrive.
After the peloton had sped through, the thousands upon thousands (might be an exaggeration) of team cars then passed through. It really gave you an understanding of just how big, both logistically and economically the Tour is. Its impact on Yorkshire will be huge, but the impact Yorkshire had on the Tour de France is even bigger.