Yorkshire’s famous gruff accents should have a little bit more of a French tinge to them next summer when the Grand Depart of the Tour de France rolls into town.
The 2014 Tour will start in Leeds with the riders spending two days in the White Rose county before heading to London and then across the Channel. And, whether or not Chris Froome will arrive as the defending champion or Mark Cavendish can claim the yellow jersey for the first time in his mother’s hometown of Harrogate on the opening day, organisers believe it will be an event for British fans to savour.
“The main thing you have to understand about the Grand Depart is the hugeness of it,” said Welcome to Yorkshire chief executive Gary Verity. “It is like nothing else on earth. We will see that in Leeds and Yorkshire next year.”
The two stages will see the riders race north from Leeds and into the Dales before doubling back to Harrogate on the opening day, before they head from the historic walled city of York and west towards Keighley and the Pennines on their way to Sheffield. The nature of that second stage promises to be one of the more challenging starts to a Tour in recent history – even more so than this weekend’s tough opening stages on Corsica.
“We don’t have any mountains that compare to the Alps or Pyrenees in Yorkshire, but we do have hills,” Verity said. “The second stage will have nine climbs, and we’re told it will be one of the hardest opening stages of the Tour for 40 years. There is a total of 3,000 metres of ascent.”
Effectively, then, the route designers have made a mountain out of several hills, with certain stretches of the route west of Sheffield already creating plenty of buzz.
“Talking to the cycling purists and the former riders of the Tour here, they are excited about stage two,” Verity said.
Their dream would be for Manxman Mark Cavendish - denied a chance to wear the yellow jersey for the first time in dramatic circumstances yesterday - to be riding that stage in the maillot jaune.
To do so, he would need to have claimed victory the day before on what is expected to be a sprint finish onto his mother’s turf, with the finish line on the Stray, south of Harrogate town centre.
“Hopefully it’s tailor-made for somebody like Mark Cavendish and if he were to win that would be the icing on the cake for us,” Verity said.
London, where the riders will finish stage three after a run south from Cambridge, hosted the Grand Depart in 2007 - the Tour’s third visit to the UK after stages in Plymouth in 1974 and along the south coast in 1994.