Yorkshire’s Grand Depart – Rapha Tempest Festival

It’s the night before the Grand Départ and things are not looking too rosy in ‘God’s Own Country’. To use the local phrase, it is ‘siling down’ and the floodlights outside the Rapha HQ tent at Broughton Hall in Yorkshire are in danger of being extinguished by a deluge of fierce intensity.  The rain is beating heavily on the plasticised canvas marquee, providing additional percussion to the Friday night beats being played by Rapha DJ’s Joey Hall and Festus. The throng of people inside are having a good time enjoying the tunes, the beer and the company but eyes keep flicking outside and you can feel minds wondering whether the name of the Tempest Festival will prove prophetic. I’m inside too, chatting to a couple of guys sitting at one of the long tables in the bar end of the tent. One notices my concern and leans in conspiratorially. “Don’t worry.” he says over the noise of the music. “I work as a trader in Amsterdam. I have to study the weather to make my bets. The sun will come out at eight o’clock tomorrow morning. I promise you.”

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Yellow Fever – Tour de France Preview

With so much focus in this country on the Grand Départ it has been hard at times to remember that there will be a further 18 days of racing after the world’s biggest cycling cavalcade leaves our shores. I have been as guilty of this as anyone by focussing my thoughts almost entirely on the opening two stages in Yorkshire and the Stage 3 run from Cambridge to London. Everyone is talking about the ‘destiny ‘of Mark Cavendish to win the Maillot Jeune in his mum’s home town of Harrogate and wondering how much damage the fearsome Côte de Jenkins Road will do in the final few kilometres into Sheffield the following day. I think we are suffering from a touch of yellow fever that is clouding our ability to see beyond this weekend. It’s fantastic that we have so much to discuss about the short time the Grand Boucle is with us. But what of the rest of Le Tour?

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Stoller’s Départ – Douglas Cowie & Matthew Shaw

I am lucky to be old enough, and to have arrived in London just in time, to have enjoyed the considerable pleasures of the old Reading Room at the British Museum. The circular space at the centre of the Great Court, which attained almost sacred status to the Capital’s writers of yesteryear, was just about the most evocative place one could imagine to read or write. The Victorian desks, low glowing lights, the curved bookshelves lining the perimeter walls and the elegant clerestory windows were all suitably impressive but so was the archaic ticketed entry system which made you feel as much a part of the ancient furniture as the often impenetrable tomes in the room. Pushing open the low gate and entering the hushed arena of that literary sanctum was about as good as it got for me back then and I mourned the closing of the old Reading Room in 1997 like the loss of an old friend. It remains my favourite London space, despite not being open for 17 years.

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Yorkshire’s Grand Depart – Interview with Head of Media – Andy Denton

With the Tour de France less than a month away, all cycling eyes are turning to Yorkshire as final preparations are made before some of England’s most green and pleasant land is turned yellow for the couple of crazy days that will be Le Grand Depart.

Leading the team charged with communicating the story of Yorkshire’s time in the spotlight is Head of Media, Andy Denton. The Jersey Pocket caught up with this Kentish Lad who found his home in the Yorkshire Dales and then helped win the bid to bring Froome, Nibali, Contador and everyone else to England’s largest county.


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Foreign Starts – Grand Tours on Tour

With both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia set to start outside of their own borders next year it seems like a good time to have a look at this increasingly regular phenomenon. In 2014 the Giro will spend three days in Ireland during May, visiting both Belfast and Dublin, before Le Tour comes to Yorkshire, Cambridge and London in July. Whilst the Vuelta tends to be much more of an insular affair – having only started outside of Spain twice in it’s 60 year history –  a fifth of all the Giro starts since it’s first foray to San Marino in 1965 have been foreign affairs.
The Tour is an even more international event with over 20 foreign starts dating back as early as 1954 in Amsterdam. This began a sequence of around three Tours each decade commencing in foreign parts up until the Millennium. After that they increased again and Tour De France race director Christian Prudhomme clearly stated his aims in 2007 when he said that 3 out of every 5 Tours should begin abroad. Talk during the Armstrong era of a start on American soil may have failed to materialise because of the very real logistical issues of transferring the entire race and it’s vast entourage across 5 time zones of Atlantic Ocean but the appetite to take the Tour ‘on tour’ is self evident.

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Yorkshire’s Grand Depart – Countdown commencement

A year from today, July 5th 2014, the Tour de France will roll out from Leeds – it’s most Northerly, and perhaps least likely starting point ever. Last December Yorkshire won the bid to host the 2014 Grand Depart, beating competition from much more apparently obvious choices such as Florence, Berlin and Barcelona (as well as the less immediately obvious choice of Venice…. Hello? Canals?). Succesfully riding the tide of the success of Cav & Brad, and by skilfully tapping the burgeoning public enthusiasm for road cycling that bloomed during the London Grand Depart in 2007 and then again for the 2012 Olympics, Yorkshire played their bid to their particular strengths and are now beginning the execution of a critical 12 months worth of awareness and opportunity building in order to make the very most of the Tour’s short time in their hands. 


The Route

Yorkshire’s initial bid had suggested that the Tour would spend three full days in England’s largest county. However, once the route (decided by the Tours French owners ASO) was confirmed a couple of months after the bid win, Yorkshire was left with Stages 1 and 2, with Stage 3 located in the South, running from Cambridge to a central London finish. I was personally disappointed that the mooted third day was dropped in favour of London. There were suggestions that the route would include my home town of Hull and would cross the Humber Bridge – which I think would have been a great Tour image – but the two Stages they do have look to be absolute crackers.

Stage 1. Leeds to Harrogate. 

Leeds – Harewood – Otley – Ilkley – Skipton – Kettlewell – Aysgarth – Hawes – Reeth – Leyburn – Ripon – Harrogate

No prologue again next year and the first stage looks to be similar to this years in trying to set up a sprinter for the first Maillot Jaune. It’s a 190km looping course, initially striking out North-West from Leeds, taking in the open country of the Yorkshire Dales National Park before heading back close to the starting point in Harrogate. Cav’s mum lives around the corner to finish and he will be especially fired up after missing out on his chance to wear yellow this year.

Stage 2. York to Sheffield.

York – Knaresborough – Silsden – Keighley – Haworth – Hebden Bridge – Elland – Huddersfield – Holmfirth – Sheffield

The second stage has been described by Christian Prudhomme as being more like a Spring Classic and whilst a pure sprinter may be in yellow as they roll out of York to start the 200km anti-clockwise loop it’s unlikely he would be atop the podium come the days end. If Cav did grab the leader’s jersey on Day 1 there will be some memorable scenes as the route returns through Harrogate. Lingering shots of Cav’s mum waving out of her window as her yellow-clad son is allowed to lead the peloton through town perhaps.. The route then winds down through West Yorkshire across a sawtooth profile (including the brilliantly named Blubberhouses where my mother’s family trace their roots back to, and then Hebden Bridge where I lived out a memorably up-and-down year after university) before finishing in Sheffield on a small repeating circuit. Prudhomme has made comparisons between the Stage 2 route and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and he obviously feels that the puncheurs will be at the head of affairs through the last few kilometres.

The direction is clear. ASO want more, and more different, yellow jersey wearers in the first days of the race. They want to open out the leader’s spot to all rider styles and create greater spectacle from the off. In choosing challenging routes over more glamorous backdrops they seem keen to put the cycling, and not the spectacle, first. They believe, as should we all, that, given the right terrain and passionate hosts, that the spectacle will come naturally.

You can see maps and more info on the routes at Yorkshire’s website here.

I’ll be returning to the Grand Depart regularly over the next year and looking a number of different aspects. Suggestions welcome.