With exactly 11 months to go until the 101st Tour de France begins in Leeds, concerns have been aired by The Yorkshire Post that the region’s name will be dropped with the race’s Grand Départ instead positioned as an England-wide event.
The newspaper claims that government documents secured by it under the Freedom of Information Act demonstrate a high degree of hostility in Whitehall to the successful bid to host the race by regional tourism agency, Welcome to Yorkshire.
At the heart of what the Leeds-based newspaper describes as “a clear snub to the Yorkshire tourism bosses” appears to be a potent mixture of sporting and government politics.
In November last year, Welcome to Yorkshire beat off rival bids to secure the event, including one led by VisitScotland that had the support of the UK government as well as British Cycling.
That bid originally envisaged the race starting in Edinburgh and staying within Scotland, but was subsequently amended to take include Wales then head towards the Channel Ports, to include more parts of the UK.
The successful bid from Welcome to Yorkshire sees Leeds host the build-up to the race and Stage 1 from that city to Harrogate on Saturday 5 July 2014. The following day, the race remains within Yorkshire, with Stage 2 from York to Sheffield, after which the race heads south for Stage 3 from Cambridge to London.
It’s the inclusion of that latter stage, thought to have been at the insistence of race owners ASO to bring the race closer to France ahead of its crossing the Channel, plus a desire to showcase 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games host city London that is partly behind the current controversy.
With the race no longer exclusively within the four modern counties that constitute the region, a meeting between UK Sport, VisitEngland and the Department for Media, Culture and Sport (DCMS) resulted in a decision to brand the Grand Départ as an ‘England’ event, according to The Yorkshire Post.
Another issue adding to the argument, it says, is the issue of funding for the event; under a recently announced deal, councils in Yorkshire will pay £11 million of the cost of putting the race on, with £10 million provided by central government.
The stakes are high. Last month, on the final day of the Tour de France in Paris, Welcome to Yorkshire’s chief executive Gary Verity told road.cc that he thought the economic impact of the Tour’s visit to the reaching would be “worth a lot more” than the £88 million generated by the London and Kent Grand Départ in 2007.
Part of the attraction of joining places such as Corsica or the Belgian province of Liège, in hosting the start of the race is the boost to the profile of an area that comes with the world’s biggest annual sporting event – something that for Yorkshire itself risks being watered down if England instead is emphasised in marketing campaigns built around the race.
Documents obtained by The Yorkshire Post – it describes them as ‘heavily censored’ – reveal that UK Sport has described Yorkshire’s hosting of the Grand Départ as a “very high risk project,” and one that has “significant financial and logistical challenges.”
The newspaper says that UK Sport had told the government in March that no public funding should be provided, expressing doubts regarding the “financial and logistical viability of the plans,” as well as having “limited confidence in Welcome to Yorkshire’s leadership of the event.”
The publication singles out one document as evidence of a desire by UK Sport, DCMS and VisitEngland to emphasise ‘England’ rather than ‘Yorkshire,’ the minutes of a meeting between them on 13 March this year, which stated:
“They discussed marketing the event as ‘England’, and the opportunities for VisitEngland to be involved in this. VisitEngland confirmed they would be keen to lead, and would provide...”
According to The Yorkshire Post, the remainder of the text had been redacted by lawyers acting for UK Sport.
In a sign of how the Tour’s visit may be pitched in the coming months, the newspaper also highlighted a recent press release from VisitEngland, which made just one reference to Yorkshire, and which began: “England has embarked on a cycling revolution. July 5 marks one year to go until the world’s biggest cycle race comes to English shores.”
However, the agency’s chief executive, James Berresford, explained that the wording reflected its role: “Our job as the national tourist board is to support all destinations in England linked with the Tour de France including Yorkshire, host to the Grand Départ, as well as Cambridge and London.
“We have been asked by the Government to make the most of this incredibly exciting event to market cycling tourism opportunities in England, and our strategy will be to highlight all the great destinations around England in which to enjoy this great sport.”
A spokesmen for DCMS added: “We are completely committed to helping make the Tour De France 2014 Grand Départ in Yorkshire and the Cambridge to London stage a great success, and are contributing up to £10m of exchequer funding to make that happen.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.