Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity reflects on stunning Tour de France Grand Départ

Man who brought race to Yorkshire looks back on an incredible two days

by Simon_MacMichael   August 7, 2014  

Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, on the Champs-Elysees (copyright Simon Wilkinson:SWpix.com)

Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity, the man who brought the Grand Départ of the Tour de France to England’s biggest region, has been reflecting on an event that brought millions of people out to watch the two stages, showcased Yorkshire to the world, and also perhaps gave some substance to the phrase, ‘God’s Own County’ as it basked in glorious sunshine.

Standing on Buttertubs Pass, just a few weeks ago thronged with fans as the world’s biggest annual sporting event passed through but restored to its usual quiet and rugged beauty, Verity told the Yorkshire Post’s Sarah Freeman: “It feels a little surreal standing here now.

“The landscape was totally transformed that day. Take away those huge crowds of people and it somehow becomes impossible to spot any of the usual landmarks. I haven’t had time to watch the television footage yet, but I will. People tell me that Yorkshire looked beautiful and hopefully we have uncovered a hidden gem for people abroad.”

He said he believed that the Grand Départ could transform Yorkshire’s fortune, not least by instilling a new-found confidence in its people and businesses.

“In the past we have lacked belief. I hope the Tour changed that. I hope it showed us that when we unite we can be the best in the world. That kind of attitudinal shift doesn’t happen overnight, but it was about showing people the art of the possible.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to think that someone, somewhere in Yorkshire is now setting up a world class business and when they’re asked why they started it they’ll say they were inspired by the Tour de France.”

One notable feature of the opening week of the Tour was the contrast between the glorious weather in Yorkshire and the atrocious conditions once the race hit London then crossed the Channel.

“The weather was never in doubt,” Verity insisted. “You know in the last 12 months the Met Office forecasts were 48 per cent accurate, which means they got more wrong than they got right. I’m a farmer and you get to know more than looking at the clouds than you ever do consulting an official forecast.

“In the week before everyone was saying it was going to be a bit of mixed bag, but I reckon it’s better to have a poor forecast and it gets better than being told it’s going to be gloriously sunny and then it tips it down.

“However, it was quite extraordinary that for those two days the race seemed to exist under a beam of sunlight. I saw Marcel Kittel after he won the third stage from Cambridge to London.

“I asked him how he was and he said, ‘Well, I’m OK, but Gary, today it rained’. I told him it showed God has a sense of humour.”

He also spoke of the enthusiasm with which the people of Yorkshire had embraced the race, contrasting it with the rather more muted reception – in terms of colour and spectacle, at least – he discovered further south on Stage 3 from Cambridge to London.

“Someone asked me if we had a team of people going out placing yellow bicycles and bunting around the county. There wasn’t anything like that, it just happened. Eighteen months before we ran a series of roadshows to tell people how they could be a part of the event.

“We might have sowed the seeds, but the response from towns and villages was authentic and genuine and I think it actually shamed some councils into getting their act together.

“That, I think, was the difference. As we moved down to Cambridge the crowds were still good, but up here there were more people dressed in yellow, more people kitted out in polka dots. Basically we went more bonkers. Down south the crowd didn’t roar, instead it clapped politely.”

The 2015 Tour de France starts in the Netherlands, and the man who will fulfil the role that Verity performed so ably in the build-up to this year’s race knows that he has a tough act to follow.

“It was all worth it,” said Verity. “The Mayor of Utrecht was at Harewood House on day one. The Grand Départ goes there next year and at one point he turned to me to say, ‘So not only do we have to stage an opening ceremony and organise an arts festival, but we’ve got to get some members of the Royal Family to the start’.

“Just as he said that, the Red Arrows flew overhead. With his head not quite in his hands, he said ‘and now we’ve got to find an aerobatic display team...’.”

Verity added that he had been overwhelmed by the thanks he has received since the race left Yorkshire, saying: “I think I’ve probably shaken more hands in the last couple of weeks than I have the rest of my life.

“I’ve had emails and texts and thank you letters, most from people I’ve never met telling me how good the Tour was for them. What can I say, except it’s been pretty humbling,” he concluded.

14 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I suppose you can organise until you're blue in the face, but ultimately it's getting joe public to buy into the whole thing which makes it snowball into something as good as this was. Well done!

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3198 posts]
7th August 2014 - 11:10

38 Likes

Chapeau to Gary, his team and the people of Yorkshire!

posted by chrisb87 [67 posts]
7th August 2014 - 11:14

43 Likes

One of the best weeks of my life. I never expected to ride with Kittel and team Giant Shim, the opening Ceremony was ok but it was just a cracking time, when I see the crowds on buttertubs with the riders I well up a bit..

Chapeau Yorkshire, roll on the Tour of Yorkshire next May and see the Yorkshire Moors and our wonderful coast.

Leodis's picture

posted by Leodis [213 posts]
7th August 2014 - 11:42

31 Likes

Could not have been prouder to be a Yorkshireman. It was a weekend I'll never forget.

YorkshireMike's picture

posted by YorkshireMike [74 posts]
7th August 2014 - 11:59

29 Likes

An amazing weekend. I was on Cote de Grinton Moor and it was incredible and unforgettable

I remember the general hilarity and disbelief when the news that Yorkshire were bidding broke.

Takes real vision and genius to come up with such a seemingly crazy idea, but to pull it off so successfully.

I seriously would like to see Gary knighted for his role.

posted by gazza_d [211 posts]
7th August 2014 - 12:17

37 Likes

gazza_d wrote:
I seriously would like to see Gary knighted for his role.

+1 and +1 more Applause

Him Up North's picture

posted by Him Up North [219 posts]
7th August 2014 - 13:00

28 Likes

The thing that got me was that the turn out was just immense. There seemed to be more people on holme moss than there were on some ofthe big passes in the alps, not to mention the legions of supporters along the whole route even on the downhills. There was a marked contrast with the rest of the race route.

A very proud moment in british cycling, and a huge success. I fear tho that the shear numbers that came out for the tour will make policing the route prohibitally expensive to do it again anytime soon.

I will never forget being stuck in a traffic jam of bikes for 45minutes just trying to get home from holme moss...amazing!

posted by balmybaldwin [38 posts]
7th August 2014 - 13:28

32 Likes

Leodis wrote:
One of the best weeks of my life. I never expected to ride with Kittel and team Giant Shim, the opening Ceremony was ok but it was just a cracking time, when I see the crowds on buttertubs with the riders I well up a bit..

Chapeau Yorkshire, roll on the Tour of Yorkshire next May and see the Yorkshire Moors and our wonderful coast.

How did you get to ride withGiant-Shimano?

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3198 posts]
7th August 2014 - 13:32

23 Likes

Travelled back from Aus' to watch the TDF on our "local" roads around Bradfield - fantastic atmosphere.

Went up to the Dales and rode the first day.
Mrs antigee and team rode London - Paris before we came back home.

On return flight watched last years Tour of Oman - zero (or less?) spectators visible - pro sport might be about money but it can't pay for the enthusiasm that people in Yorkshire showed.

Hope to see some legacy with more young people getting involved in riding and Councils getting there act together to sort missing links that make cycling safe for all.

Big yes for Gary Verity's vision and execution

posted by antigee [153 posts]
7th August 2014 - 13:37

26 Likes

I watched it go through Silsden, I have never seen a crowd like it there were thousands in this small town. On the TV it looked the same all along the course. Uttlery amazing. On the Sunday I called in at a service station just south of Sheffield, almost every car had a bike on it or in it. Makes me proud to be a Yorkshireman and cyclist. Big Grin

Endorphines going up and adrenaline going down, who needs drugs?

posted by banzicyclist2 [219 posts]
7th August 2014 - 22:05

20 Likes

Standing on the side of the road in the neutralised area in York, with thousands screaming and shouting, who as a whole have never watched a cycling race but wanting to give some tiny bit of contribution, has to rank up there as a moment of my year. Probably just a tiny bit behind proposing (which was also in York!). Grandest of Grand Departs indeed!

posted by nicholassmith [65 posts]
7th August 2014 - 23:09

19 Likes

notfastenough wrote:
How did you get to ride withGiant-Shimano?

From my addled memory of that week/end, I'm pretty sure they put it out on Twitter that they were going for a ride and people were welcome to join them, just fired out a time and location and people turned up and rode with the team.

posted by farrell [1457 posts]
8th August 2014 - 0:40

9 Likes

I would hope that Gary Verity gets something in the new year's honours

FATBEGGARONABIKE's picture

posted by FATBEGGARONABIKE [591 posts]
8th August 2014 - 18:48

7 Likes

I was in Grassington last week and I asked the owner of the Spar 'how long are all the TDF decorations going to be up?'

'Who knows,' he answered cheerfully, 'Some villages still have Jubilee bunting up...' I think he meant Golden..

Chapeau Yorkshire. B.A.B myself so it means a lot.

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1059 posts]
8th August 2014 - 20:42

10 Likes