A bit like Alice in Wonderland, I emerged blinking back into the world wondering if the surrealness and madcap antics of the Grand Depart had been real and reflecting back on one of the most incredible experiences. When Yorkshire won the right to host the depart I was of course hugely excited but after going to the launch event I was worried that we would mess it up as that was a truly dreadful event. Fortunately everyone involved clearly bucked their ideas up after that and put on a truly stunning Grand Depart.
Running the Yorkshire Festival in the build up was I think key to creating such a great atmosphere as it got all sorts of creative people and enterprises doing stuff linked to the tour who may otherwise never have got involved. The result was a huge range of art and cultural activities across the region, big and small, high art to utter madcap which helped the region raise a collective eyebrow and take an interest in what was coming over the horizon. The Festival also, in my view, acted as a catalyst to all sorts of other events as communities got well and truly into the spirit of it all. The result was that countless individual acts, which on their own would have been meaningless, became part of a huge patchwork quilt of yellow, green and polka dot covering the whole of the county. A perfect example of this was the knitted yellow jersey put on the Black Prince statue in Leeds that had been knitted by 70, 80 and 90 year olds that you can read the lovely story of here.
Thursday night saw the team presentation. I did not buy a ticket for this in the arena and was pretty miffed that the organisers had taken this approach instead of the normal free show so I decided to use the money that I would have spent on a ticket for a train fare to London on the Monday. However there was no real need to go to the presentation as the teams did a presentation ride through the city centre, the huge crowds that lined the route giving a flavour of what to expect of the the next few days. Some of the riders looked a bit bemused by it all but most were smiling, acknowledging the crowds and interacting, with Ion Izagirre high fiving my daughter as he road past.
I took the Friday and Monday off work, determined to soak up the atmosphere and take in as much as I could and of course to see each of the three stages taking place in the UK. The sun had been shinning all week prior to the start but there were numerous glances at the forecasts as rain was expected on the weekend (which if it had materialised would have certainly changed the whole vibe of the event). I mooched about on the Friday, took in the Yorkshire bike show and marvelling at the vast media empire that was swinging into action and loving all the different accents I was starting to hear around town. It was fun catching up on tweets and glimpses of the teams riding around the area, included the lovely touch by Giant-Shimano who organised a tweet up ride in North Leeds. It’s amazing how the nature of social media has changed the game enabling me to catch up on all that was going on while supping on a pint of Magic Spanner at a pop up bar in the old police cells.
Saturday I wanted to see the start in Leeds, but even though I knew a lot of people would be coming into town I was still taken aback by the sheer volume of people, the whole city centre was heaving and people were standing 5 deep from about 8.30 in the morning. I was lucky in that an organisation that I know were based right on the bottom of the Headrow in a perfect spot and so I found myself hanging out of the second floor window ready for the start (see photo at the top). The crackle of noise that swept down with the riders will live with me for a long time, the riders looked pretty startled I thought by the sheer volume of people and noise that greeted the roll out.
Sunday I’d decided to head out as early as possible on the first train to Mytholmroyd and walk up Cragg Vale (the longest continuous climb in England). There was again a huge sea of people and another fantastic atmosphere as thousands of people walked and cycled up the hill chatting and smiling with the local residents who were getting set up outside their houses, parties getting started and kids selling drinks, home made buns and loom bands on the roadside. This time I managed to see the breakaway and of course the peloton sweep through treating the long drag as if it was a flat road.
London beckoned on Monday and it was strange really as after the huge party across Yorkshire I arrived in the capital to no visible sign that the tour was going to be in town. This time I headed out a little bit and was fortunate to see the two strong breakaway on their last legs before the peloton steam through at full tilt, the sprint trains getting organised. Quite incredible to see the speed at which they were riding.
After each day I watched the stage on the tele and marvelled at how brilliant it all looked. There is of course a reason that Yorkshire looked so amazingly green as we get a good chunk of rain up here but the rain held off until London, if fact the sun shone brilliantly across the weekend and Yorkshire came out to party. My abiding memory was that I’ve never seen so many people with a smile on their face and enjoying themselves. A truly memorable and magic weekend.