'Ee bah gum' meets 'Oh là là' - Yorkshire bids for Tour de France Grand Départ
Welcome to Yorkshire confirms discusssions with ASO to host start of 2016 race
Whippets and flat caps could soon be vying for attention with poodles and berets following the news that discussions to bring the Grand Départ of the 2016 Tour de France to Yorkshire are at an advanced stage.
According to the Yorkshire Post, a team led by local tourism authority Welcome to Yorkshire have already held detailed talks with Tour organisers ASO about bringing the opening stages of cycling’s biggest race what, at least by its historical boundaries, is England’s biggest county.
It’s also one with a rich cycling heritage, including two natives who have won Tour stages. Barry Hoban, who claimed eight stage victories in the race between 1967 and 1975, comes from Wakefield, while Huddersfield’s Brian Robinson won a stage in both the 1958 and 1959 editions of the event.
Yorkshire riders currently racing at the top level of the sport include Team Sky’s Russ Downing and Ben Swift, both from Rotherham. Malcolm Elliott, from nearby Sheffield, is still racing domestically for the Motorpoint team he also manages, and competed in the Tour de France in the 1980s.
The newspaper says that further talks are due to be held next month. That would involve ASO officials visiting Yorkshire, with a delegation from the county having already visited the Tour organisers at their offices in Paris.
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, told the Yorkshire Post: “I can confirm that we are having advanced talks to host the Tour de France. Those in-depth discussions are ongoing but I can reveal Yorkshire’s bid has been positively received by the organisation committee at this stage.
“Yorkshire is a world-class destination experienced at successfully hosting world-class events and we believe it will provide the perfect backdrop to the world’s greatest cycle race, producing the best international Grand Depart the Tour de France has seen yet,” he added.
In separate comments made to The Guardian, Mr Verity said: "We have had several meetings with them [ASO] and we hope we can persuade them we have something of interest to offer the Tour," adding that "It started as a speculative approach from our side and has gone from there.
"We are giving them a choice of possible routes,” he continued. “They can start in Leeds and have two or three days based there, including going out into the Yorkshire Dales, or go from York up across the North Yorkshire Moors to Scarborough. If they want flat roads we have those, if they want iconic scenery we have plenty of that."
The Tour de France has visited the UK three times, but has only started here once, in 2007, when huge crowds witnessed Fabian Cancellara winning the Prologue in London before a road stage to Canterbury the following day, won by Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen.
The 1974 race, won by Eddy Merckx, included a stage that started and finished in Plymouth, won by the Dutchman Henk Poppe.
In 1994, Stage 4 was held between Dover and Brighton, with the following day’s Stage 5 began and ended in Portsmouth. Those stages were respectively won by the Spaniard Francisco Cabello and Italy’s Nicola Minali.
The Tour de France first started outside its native country in The Netherlands in 1954, and nowadays foreign Grand Départs figure every two or three years, with last year’s race starting in Rotterdam and the 2012 edition due to get under way in Liege.
The boost the race gives to local economies during its visit as well as its role in raising the profile of an area as a tourist destination means there is no shortage of cities or regions queuing up to host the start of the race.
Scotland is bidding to stage the Grand Départ in 2017, and other potential locations for the start of the race in the coming years include Barcelona, Florence, Krakow and Qatar.