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Gary Verity interview: Inside the Tour de France Machine with the CEO of Welcome to Yorkshire

The boss of the 2014 Grand Départ on sleepless nights, government relations and the aftermath of the Tour de France

The three days of the Tour de France Grand Départ will be the biggest cycling event ever held in the UK. In the first of our series talking to the people making sure it all goes off without a hitch, Gary Verity, CEO of Welcome to Yorkshire, talks about beating Florence, working with stage three organisers and government and what the Tour will leave behind when it heads back to France.

Road.cc: Were you the first cog in the Yorkshire Tour machine or did someone else come up with the idea and then fire you up to make it happen?

Gary Verity: The Yorkshire Grand Départ bid was my idea born out of a desire to see Yorkshire take its rightful place on the world stage. Since that first initial thought and over the last two and half years I and my team at Welcome to Yorkshire have developed the bid and taken it from rank outsider to favourite and then in December 2012 the ASO announced we had beat Florence to host the 2014 Grand Départ which was an incredibly proud moment.

Incidentally the Mayor of Florence when we were bidding is now the Prime Minister of Italy, so it shows the level of ambition we were up against.


Mayor of Porto Vecchio Georges Mela with Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity (copyright Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com)

Decisions, decisions

Road.cc: What does being head of the Yorkshire Grand Départ entail? Are you involved in every decision, and how do you work with the organisers of Stage 3?

Gary Verity: Absolutely. I am involved in every decision around the hosting of the Grand Départ from team hotels and presentations, branding and business engagement to volunteers, legacy plans and ensuring Yorkshire maximizes this once in a lifetime opportunity.

We work closely with our friends in London and Cambridge - and have done since when the bid was in its infancy - to ensure that we deliver an unforgettable three days of racing, both for Yorkshire and the UK.

Road.cc: When the Tour is on how many people will be working for the Tour machine both directly and indirectly?

Gary Verity: From my team at Welcome to Yorkshire there will be roughly 40 people dedicated to working on Le Tour the week of the 1st July onwards. We also have a team of 10,000 Tour Maker volunteers, in partnership with ASDA, who will be performing similar roles to the brilliantly effective Games Makers at the London 2012 Olympics across all three stages.

That’s not to mention those staff working across all the local authorities in Yorkshire, the not for profit organisation set up by UK Sport to channel Government funding to aid logistical delivery of the race – TdfHub2014 — as well as our colleagues in Cambridge and London.


Keith Wakefield (right) joins Gary Verity (2nd right) and London and Cambridge representatives in Paris (picture Simon WIlkinson/SWPix.com)

Sleepless nights

Road.cc: Were there any times in the bid period when you thought, 'We might not get this.'?

Gary Verity: I used to have sleepless nights thinking we might miss out on landing the Grand Départ for Yorkshire. Now I have sleepless nights because I am so excited to see how it will feel to have the honour to host the Tour de France in my home county.

Road.cc: Your relationship with the Government has not always been the smoothest. Do you feel the Yorkshire Grand Départ has their full support now?

Gary Verity: We have had cross party support for the race coming to Yorkshire since day one and we now have great support within the Government from the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister down who understand what the race means to the people and the businesses of Yorkshire and England.

We are all working together now to make this the best Grand Départ in the history of the Tour de France and ensure Stage Three provides a perfect finale to Le Tour’s three days in the UK. I am sure we will be successful in delivering that.


Corsica’s President hands over TDF Grand Depart duties to Welcome to Yorkshire’s Gary Verity (copyright Simon Wilkinson/SWpix.com)

The Tour de Yorkshire

Road.cc: You've worked very closely with Christian Prudhomme and ASO throughout the process and it's clear there's a close and fruitful working relationship there... and now we have ASO following up the Grand Départ with a stage race in Yorkshire, very unusual in itself; how did that come about and whose idea was it?

Gary Verity: I realized that this wasn’t JUST about hosting the Tour de France in Yorkshire. Yorkshire is a heartland of British cycling and is home to some of the country’s trailblazing talents going way back to the days of Brian Robinson.

I wanted a legacy race to keep putting Yorkshire on the map for the global cycling community. I saw firsthand what Corsica was doing with the Criterium International and that format felt like a perfect fit for a similar event to be hosted in Yorkshire.

We are still working on the detail of that race but the will and ambition to make it happen is there from all parties involved.

A place to stay — for how much?

Road.cc: Do you worry that hotels and campsites hiking their prices for the duration of the Tour’s stay in Yorkshire will put people off attending or see them come but stay outside the county?

Gary Verity: We are fortunate in that our routes have been in the public domain for over a year now so people have had plenty of time to pick their spot to watch the race. However, we recognize that a small number of accommodation providers might see this as an opportunity to make a quick profit. We have strongly advised against that, preferring instead to encourage businesses and business owners to move away from increased pricing and move towards longer minimum stays.

This is a premium sporting event and so it will demand a higher rack rate than a normal weekend in July and while market forces will in some way dictate prices particularly around those start and finish locations where availability is in short supply, we have to be mindful of the legacy impact of hosting people for the race.

We want them to leave intending to return because they have had a great experience in Yorkshire and that includes value for money.

In terms of the wider topic of accommodation availability 98% of Yorkshire is under an hour from seeing the race so there is plenty of capacity away from the action areas allowing people to experience amazing places such as the North Yorks Moors or the Yorkshire coast for example, as well as the race.

Après le Tour

Road.cc: What happens for you when the Tour has departed?

Gary Verity: I will be in Paris to see the conclusion of the race that we so proudly started but then after that I think I will have a short holiday, recharge, reflect and then I will return to continue the work that the Tour de France in Yorkshire has started.

This is a 10 year project for the county and we need to seize the moment in the afterglow of the race to really hammer home why Yorkshire will be a European capital of cycling one day.

Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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