I was absolutely amazed this morning with the news that my home city Leeds and region Yorkshire had won the rights to host the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014. I must admit that I had not held out much hope of success in the bidding process primarily because even if the decision had been made to come to Britain (which was by no means certain) then my money would have been on the joint Scotland, England, Wales bid which had been officially backed by British Cycling. However clearly something has been done very well in the bidding process so huge congratulations to all involved. Much I’ve no doubt will be made of the costs involved, how much did we bid and what will be the income from hosting. I don’t mind this as it should not be forgotten that The Tour would not exist if it was not for commercial concerns, it was after all set up to sell newspapers (L’Equipe) and every team that rolls through Yorkshire in 2014 will be a moving billboard to some company or other. For those of you who grimaced a bit at the commercial caravan of sponsors that proceeded the Olympic Torch coming through the city prepare yourself as you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Tour caravan is almost an event in it’s own right.
The Caravan is just one element of the colossal size of the event, I don’t think that the people of the region who do not follow cycling have any understanding just how big The Tour is and I doubt if the region or city will have ever held a bigger sporting event than this. It is after all the biggest annual sporting event in the world and over a million people will be heading our way to line the streets. Thousands upon thousands of visitors will come over from Belgium, Holland, France and Scandinavia not to mention those from further afield like Australia and America. This raises lots of questions for me – the airport link to the city centre being one and where are we going to put all the camper vans for another. I can understand of course why the powers that be will be rubbing their hands with glee at all this disposal income arriving in the region and it will be great but I wonder about the wider opportunity here. Will we only focus on the economic benefit in it’s simplest sense or will we use this once in a lifetime opportunity to do something radical.
I cycle most days in this city and the region as a whole and while it has much to offer those of us on two wheels the city itself is not the most cycle friendly, and that’s putting it politely. Can bringing The Tour here be a catalyst for a re-evaluation of our relationship with the city ? Back in the 60’s Leeds set out it’s grand vision for the future and it was one of the car and the result was a motorway right through the middle of the city centre and huge interlinking trunk roads dividing up neighbourhoods and cutting many of them off in pockets of isolation and deprivation. Very little has changed in my view, if you want to traverse the city either on foot or on two wheels then you face a lot of very unhelpful situations – I give you Sheepscar Interchange as just one example. The road surfaces as well are potholed, poorly maintained and dangerous. However there are a large number of people here who cycle regularly and love cycling in all it’s forms – will those organising things look to involve them in what happens now as afterall I was not aware of much involvement during the bidding process. Cycling also has a large culture around it, it’s not just a sport. Art, photography, literature and film are thriving offshoots of the cycling world, how are they going to be embraced? Can the city and the region take a leaf out of London’s books from the Olympics which had both a cultural Olympiad but also harnessed volunteers in a brilliant way as Gamesmakers making a visit there a complete delight. A high bar was set can we top it ? I’m not sure where the Etape du Tour is going to be in 2014 but we should make sure that the day before an event is held enabling anyone who wants to to ride the route, you would get 30-40,000 doing it (including me).
Which brings us onto the route which has not yet been announced, and will no doubt be the topic of feverish debate both before and after it’s announced. Those of us who live here will have lots of ideas of where it should go and no doubt as soon as it is announced villages on the route will see a large influx of lycra clad strava boys and girls laying down their markers. For me though I’m already wondering where Didi Senft ‘El Diablo’ (below) is going to base himself.
Picture credit: Reuters
All these questions are for the future and I for one can’t wait to see how things develop. One thing I would love to see though is the brilliant poster by Mark Fairhurst at the top of this post be used as the official poster. As soon as I saw it today I thought straight away that’s it, a nod to all the heritage while embracing the Yorkshireness of what will happen in 2014. I was also thinking today about how we are going to accommodate everyone, perhaps those of us who are cycling fans can set up some sort of open house scheme where we link with a fan from abroad and let them stay for a few days, show them our city and region and hopefully get involved in the full amazing party and celebration that will hopefully be happening ?
So while today’s announcing fills me with unbridled glee I desperately hope that the city and the region grasps the handlebars and promotes and invests in such a way that a lasting legacy is established. After all the world is invited to one amazing event right here, lets get this party started.